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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.

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.

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.

Our Team have multiple concurrent research cave projects running and we are partnered with several research groups and individuals in Ireland, UK and Canada.

Assoc. Prof. Helen Lewis is the principal investigator of the Irish Research Council COALESCE Instar+ and Dr Richard Jennings is the principal investigator of the Royal Irish Academy funded archaeological research excavations grants.


Dr Ruth Carden MIAI FSAScot is a Senior Research Scientist and the leading Irish expert on Quaternary and zooarchaeological faunal remains on concurrent projects. Ruth started a full reassessment using up-to-date zooarchaeological methods on antiquarian museum collections of cave faunal bones in 2007 as a personal interest project. She continued the project on and off through the subsequent years, without funding. Through the years, more collaborators joined seeking more knowledge on the palaeo-ecoystems and palaeo-environment of Ireland. Ruth's continued work led to the discovery of the first evidence of the Irish Upper Palaeolithic in 2015/16 from a adult brown bear kneecap bone (or patella), and further evidence is coming later in 2024!

Adult brown bear kneecap or patella bone, showing incised linear defects or marks made by a stone tool made on fresh green bone (animal was freshly dead) some 10,850 years ago.
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*** CALL TO ACTION - We need your help ***


Dating the cave bones, we either excavate from Irish caves or are allowed to use from Museum collections, is essential to know when the bones from animals occurred in Ireland.


Although we have partnered with 14CHRONO in Queen's University Belfast, Northern Ireland, who will radocarbon date all of our bones, we still need more funding to date as many bones as we can.


We can then build a timeline of animal species and infer palaeo-environments and palaeo-ecoystems that can help us understand how animals interacted with each other, their habitats, the palaeo-climate, their diets and the human-animal relationships.


Our funding does not cover all of the costs associated with radiocarbon dating and every little bit of money helps us get another radiocarbon date of a reindeer, grey wolf, brown bear, hyena, Arctic lemming, wild boar, fox, badger and so on. Please help us if you can.

Thank you!

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Dr Ruth Carden will be giving some in person & online talks on the exciting forthcoming research results in Winter 2024 - stay tuned for further details!

Irish Stew Podcast
featuring Dr Ruth Carden
discussion about her research and how one bone changed Irish Prehistory forever!


Listen here  July 2023

Video clip from the 2-part TV documentary series, The Burren: Heart of Stone, narrated by Brendan Glesson
Silver Branch Films

April 2021


School of Archaeology, UCD, Ireland

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