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28 July 2008
Flint hints at existence of Palaeolithic man in Ireland

The possibility of a Palaeolithic human presence in Ireland has once again presented itself. A flaked flint dating to about 200,000 years ago found in Co Down is certainly of human workmanship, but its ultimate origin remains uncertain.
     Discovered at Ballycullen, ten miles east of Belfast, the flake is 68mm long and wide and 31mm thick. Its originally dark surface is heavily patinated to a yellowish shade, and the lack of sharpness in its edges suggests that it has been rolled around by water or ice, Jon Stirland reports in Archaeology Ireland. Dr Farina Sternke has identified it as a classic Levallois-type flake from the rejuvenation of a flint core; such flakes are characteristic of stone-tool industries made by archaic humans, as technology moved towards making multiple flakes from one core and then trimming them into a variety of different tool types. The date assigned of between 240,000 and 180,000 years matches a similar flake discovered by the late Professor Frank Mitchell near Drogheda, Co Louth, 40 years ago, which has until now been the only uncontested Palaeolithic tool from Ireland.
     The problem, as with the Drogheda flake, lies in the context: the Ballycullen specimen was shown to have come from a drumlin mound, deposited by glacial activity. The last such activity in Co Down was about 16,000 years ago, and the ice sheet had spread west from Scotland. Other materials in the drumlin led Dr Ian Mitchell, of the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland, to suggest that the flake could have been transported "a significant distance, from eastern Antrim, from the sea bed in the North Channel, or even from the West Coast of Scotland", the same conclusion that Professor Mitchell came to about the Drogheda specimen in 1968. So the evidence for the earliest Irish remains enticing, but tenuous.

Source: Times Online (27 July 2008)

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