For a long time Mount Sandel in Co. Derry was the oldest proof of human civilisation in Ireland. It dates back to around 8,000 BC. An older discovery has since been made
The site is evidence that humans have lived on the island for 10,000 years, but a recent discovery of a butchered bone from a brown bear indicates that there had been people living in what’s now Ireland for 12,500 years, 2,500 thousand years before what Mount Sandel indicates.
The knee bone from the bear was originally discovered in 1903 in Co. Clare, one of thousands discovered in Alice and Gwendoline cave, with knife marks in it being noted in a report that was filed about the expedition. From the 1920s until very recently the bone was stored in the National Museum of Ireland as part of a collection.
The cave in which the bone was originally found
The discovery was made by Dr Marion Dowd and Dr Ruth Carden. Dr Carden first came across the bone in 2011 when she was re-examining the animal bone collections of the National Museum of Ireland from cave excavations. As a specialist in cave archaeology, Dr Dowd too became interested in the bone.
The two then applied for funding for Radiocarbon Dating, a method of determining the age of organic matter by using Carbon-14. The dating was carried out by the Chrono Centre at Queens University, Belfast. It was this process that proved human settlement on Ireland was older previously thought.
A second sample was sent afterwards to prove the first result, it came back the same as the first, with the cut marks being dated the same as the bone itself in the Palaeolithic period. The discovery is hugely significant for the Archaeology community who have long been searching for signs of earlier human habitation on the island of Ireland.