Niche construction in Mesolithic Ireland

James Perkins (Speaker), Laura Basell (Contributor), Plunkett, G. (Contributor)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


In 1984 Bradley wrote that “… Neolithic farmers had social relations with one another, while their Mesolithic forager predecessors had ecological relations with hazel nuts.” Since then, many researchers have sought to move away from environmentally deterministic interpretations of Mesolithic lifeways and in recent years, new approaches have permitted a more nuanced incorporation of palaeoenvironmental and palaeoecological data which address the complexities of diachronic human-landscape relationships. Recent inter-disciplinary studies from Britain that combine Niche Construction Theory (NCT) with high-resolution palynological and archaeobotanical analyses show that Mesolithic people in Britain were actively managing wild plants, creating small-scale woodlandclearances and systematically exploiting economically important plants (Rowley-Conwy & Layton 2011; Bishop et al. 2014).By contrast there are only hints from the archaeobotanical and palynological evidence to support the idea that Mesolithic people in Ireland were actively managing woodland. Very little is known about land-use and plant-use specifics in Mesolithic Ireland because: (a) minimal research into human-induced woodland disturbances has been conducted in Ireland since the 1970s, (b) potential disturbances in palynological records covering the Mesolithic were potentially overlooked due to a lack of high-resolution analyses,(c) few detailed palaeoenvironmental investigations have specifically targeted areas with Mesolithic archaeology, (d) suitable peat deposits were unavailable at many sites. This paper will assess the current state of knowledge regarding land-use and plant-use in Mesolithic Ireland, and new results will be presented from the high-resolution analysis of peat sequences taken from the vicinity of several key Irish Mesolithic sites. The sequences were analysed at multi-decadal (10-30 year) resolution for pollen, fungal spores, charcoal, tephra and 14C to identify patterns of forest clearance and fluctuating levels of human activity throughout the Mesolithic.
Period08 Sep 2018
Event titleEuropean Association of Archaeologists -24th Annual Meeting
Event typeConference
LocationBarcelona, Spain
Degree of RecognitionInternational