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About the Project

This is a very exciting time for our understanding of Irish antiquity. We recently discovered indicators of human presence in Ireland from the Palaeolithic, pushing back the known date of people in Ireland by many thousands of years. These ancient people were hunting - and possibly herding - reindeer, and using other extinct animals in a tundra-type environment, linking them with other cultures seen in Europe around 33-18,000 years ago. Our evidence comes from detailed study of animal bones from antiquarian excavations of Irish cave sites. Some of these bones have cut marks, representing butchery by ancient people. The country was covered with ice in the last Ice Age, apparently erasing all traces of this long time period from the surface of the island, so the cave evidence is vital. We know that people were living in nearby - and at times connected - Britain from at least half a million years ago, and that at least three Homo species lived there. The people using reindeer in Ireland were likely modern humans because of the dates, but there may be older remains in the archive with similar indicators. This project focuses on identifying species and cultural indicators from the animal bone archives to explore these issues further. The data generated by this project will be used to model climate and environmental change over the Pleistocene and into the Holocene, to explore early human activity in Ireland, and to develop better understanding of the context of the cave bones: how did the animal bones get into the caves? How do the various bones relate to each other and to the sediments in which they are found? By developing and interpreting the archives, our only window into Pleistocene Ireland, we will discover the first people to ever live on this island.

UCD-based Project Team

Project Partners

  • Speleological Union of Ireland
  • Richard Jennings, Rui Martiniano & Laura Buck (Liverpoool John Moores University)
  • Pontus Skoglund & Anders Bergström (Francis Crick Institute)
  • Mike Buckley (University of Manchester)
  • Brian Hayden (University of New Brunswick)


The project is funded by the (opens in a new window)Irish Research Council COALESCE Scheme (2022–2024; Strand 1L INSTAR+; Project ID: COALESCE/2022/943)

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Contact UCD School of Archaeology

Newman Building, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.
T: +353 1 716 8312 | E: archaeology@ucd.ie