The Bronze Age takes its name from the development of metalworking techniques. Bronze, an alloy of tin and copper, became a popular choice of material for metalworkers during this period. Stone implements such as axes and knives still continued in use. Their replacement by metal tools was probably a long and gradual process.
Moulding and Casting
Bronze Age metal tools were formed using moulds to shape the molten metal into the desired form. The technology for moulding bronze improved through the Bronze Age. Initially, items were cast by pouring the bronze into hollowed out stone moulds. By the Middle Bronze Age, people had invented two part moulds, where two hollowed stones were put together and metal poured into a gap at the top. This allowed for sophisticated objects like axes and spearheads to be produced. By the end of the Bronze Age, metalsmiths were making wax or fat models of what they wanted to cast, putting clay around them and then heating the clay to melt the wax. The melted metal was then poured in and once set, the clay was chipped away. Examples of such moulds are on display in the ‘Prehistoric Ireland’ exhibition at the Museum.
Exhibition links at the Museum of Archaeology
The original axehead, found in Brockagh, Co. Kildare, is on display in the ‘Prehistoric Ireland’ exhibition which traces the story of Ireland’s first inhabitants through the Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age.
Bronze Age Ireland: Before the Celts
Everyone associates Ireland’s culture and heritage with the Celts. It’s an obvious assumption to make as our language, music, art and sport – amongst other things – have all come directly from this mystical ancient society. Furthermore, they ruled the island of Ireland for around a thousand years, and their legacy was a key factor in the Irish independence movement during the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries. But did you know that the Celts were not the first people to inhabit the island? Ireland has been inhabited by humans since 6000 BC, and the Celts only arrived in 500 BC. So who were the people who came before them, and what were they doing for over 5000 years?
Ireland’s history can be broken up into various periods, or ages. First was the Mesolithic period, lasting from around 8000 – 4000 BC, when the first evidence of human habitation appears on the island. Between 4000 and 2500 BC was the Neolithic period, when the hunter gatherers of the Mesolithic eras learned to use stone tools and first discovered agriculture. Next came the Bronze Age, from 2500 BC, when the inhabitants first began to use metal to craft tools and objects. The first metal they used was bronze, hence the name ‘Bronze Age’. When the Celts came along 2000 years later, they instigated the Iron Age, and from then on the country’s history becomes a little bit more recognisable!
The Bronze Age is a significant part of Ireland’s history because it was the first time in which humans could mould a material into any shape they wanted. Up until now they had been working with stone, which isn’t the easiest material in the world to work with. As bronze was much stronger and longer lasting than stone, it meant that people’s lives became much more efficient and their activities much more effective. This allowed more time for them to take up other, more creative pursuits, and saw the beginnings of artistic development in this civilisation.
How did the Bronze Age start?
The ancient Irish learned the trick of making bronze from French settlers who crossed the water to meet them. The technology had already been in place for quite some time on the continent, but as Ireland was cut off from the mainland it took a long time for it to reach the small little island off the coast of mainland Europe. The French settlers brought the materials needed for casting simple bronze objects like arrows and taught the Irish the trade. Thankfully, Ireland had a lot of copper deposits, however, they were not in the parts of the island that had been settled so far, leading to the country’s first migrants who set off in search of copper. They found it in Mount Gabriel in county Cork and Ross Island in county Kerry, two of the few known Bronze Age mines in all of Europe.
In those days, people didn’t have to dig very far into the ground to reach the copper – a mere 5 to 10 metres was all it took! The copper ore was extracted from the ground by lighting fires inside the mine and then splashing the walls with water, causing the ore to shatter. Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin however, and there was not nearly as much tin in Ireland as copper. The miners’ solution was to import the tin from across the water in Cornwall, England, which had a plentiful supply, and so the first basic international trade began. It is estimated that around 370 tonnes of copper was extracted from the mines during the Bronze Age, but when all of surviving artefacts are combined with the estimated amount of items lost or destroyed, this still amounts to just 0.2% of the 370 tonnes. For this reason, many historians believe that the majority of the copper mined was exported to Britain and mainland Europe.
What was Bronze used for?
Bronze was mostly used to make tools such as axes. When people’s skills in casting became more advanced, the tools they made did too. Initially axe heads were made simply by pouring the molten metal into a stone which had the shape of the axe head hollowed out. When cooled and removed, the head would then be attached to a wooden handle. Later, more complex items like daggers, awls, chauldrons and horns were created using a few different methods. Similar to the carved stone method, two symmetrical stones were placed together with the molten bronze poured into a gap in the top. In other cases wax was used to form the shape of the object required. The wax was encased in clay and the clay was heated so that the wax melted. Bronze was then poured into the clay mould and when cooled, the clay was chipped away to reveal the new bronze object underneath. Other more delicate objects were made by beating sheets of bronze into the required shape.
With the onset of casting tools and the development of society in general, the Bronze Age saw weapons being made for the first time. Daggers and spear heads were particularly popular, with the blades again being attached to wooden handles. Bronze caused more damage and did not require sharpening as often as other materials. On the other hand, many primitive items of jewellery – often bracelets – were made, as well as certain household objects like bowls and vases. Irish craftsmen were particular skilled at making horn shaped trumpets. Bronze Age people had a habit of hiding their valuable bronze (and sometimes gold) objects in boglands, and many artefacts are still turning up today.
Bronze Age people lived simple, somewhat primitive lives, although there is evidence that suggests some form of class structure. Gold was obviously a highly prized material and gold objects have been found in the better examples of burial sites. They were also at least partly fashion conscious, as there are early designs and patterns imprinted or incorporated into various bronze items of jewellery. In a contrast of sorts however, this was also the time when people began to move towards a more egalitarian society, with less grand ceremonial or sacred sites.
Bronze Age people lived in simple wood and clay huts, roofed with reeds, around 5 or 6 metres in diameter. Many had a circular wooden fence forming an enclosure at the front of the house, used both as a defensive measure and for keeping animals from wandering off. They cooked in pits in the ground called ‘fulacht fian’, filled with water that was brought to the boil with hot stones that had been resting in a fire. It sounds unlikely, but experiments have proved that using this method, the water will reach the right temperature in just 30 minutes and a 4.5kg leg of mutton will be cooked through in less than 4 hours.
Agriculture was the primary focus of peoples’ lives as it allowed them to feed themselves and trade certain things with other local farmers. During the Bronze Age lowland forests were cleared to make space for animals to graze or for growing crops. People looked after themselves and their immediate families there was no ‘class system’ as such, although there were certain people who were more wealthy than others as a result of trading or being celebrated craftsmen.
Burial Tombs and Ceremonial Sites
The practice of burying the dead began in Ireland with the Bronze Age, and is the most significant trace of their lives that remains today after their bronze tools, weapons, and jewellery. The period saw a move away from the megalithic tombs of the previous age, where large stone slabs were placed to form a shelter of sorts for the body, which was then covered with earth. Instead, Bronze Age people usually used one of two types of tomb a cist tomb, which was a pit dug out of the earth and lined with stone slabs or a wedge tomb, a much smaller version of a megalithic tomb consisting of a narrowing stone chamber in a wedge shape covered with earth. The tombs usually faced south west and there are many examples all over Ireland that can be visited today. The graves were usually found with pottery inside.
During the Bronze Age people also began to adopt religious beliefs as well as burial rituals. Not much is known about specific beliefs, but there is a lot of evidence to suggest that they held large outdoor ceremonies at certain times of the year. Ceremonies were held in henges (circular areas 100 to 200 metres wide surrounded by an earth ridge) or stone circles with large upright stones placed at intervals to form the circular shape. Cremated remains of animals and humans have been found in both, and in the case of stone circles, a row of stones set at a tangent to the circle often appears too.
Just like today, Bronze Age people often wore jewellery. While nowadays jewellery is more of a fashion accessory than anything else, during this period its primary function was to show off a person’s wealth or status in society. Bronze was already everywhere, however, so the most esteemed people in society actually wore gold jewellery rather than bronze.
The jewellery that the Bronze Age people wore, however, was nothing like the rings, pendants and earrings that are popular today. One of the most common items was called a lunula, a large crescent shaped collar that was made from very thin and flat sheets of gold that were hammered and cut into shape. They were then decorated with various designs using a technique called repousse in other words, denting the metal from the back so that the front becomes raised, creating a relief effect. Many also included a chevron (or zig-zag) design that was engraved directly onto the surface. Over 80 examples of lunulae have been found around Ireland.
Although primitive in technique, Bronze Age jewellery is still beautiful to look at. Thankfully, the pieces discovered in bogs around the Irish countryside have stood the test of time very well, and you can see them in the magnificent collection of the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, just as shiny and glittering as they would have been thousands of years ago.
An American widow&rsquos account of her travels in Ireland in 1844&ndash45 on the eve of the Great Famine:
Sailing from New York, she set out to determine the condition of the Irish poor and discover why so many were emigrating to her home country.
Mrs Nicholson&rsquos recollections of her tour among the peasantry are still revealing and gripping today.
The author returned to Ireland in 1847&ndash49 to help with famine relief and recorded those experiences in the rather harrowing:
Annals of the Famine in Ireland is Asenath Nicholson's sequel to Ireland's Welcome to the Stranger. The undaunted American widow returned to Ireland in the midst of the Great Famine and helped organise relief for the destitute and hungry. Her account is not a history of the famine, but personal eyewitness testimony to the suffering it caused. For that reason, it conveys the reality of the calamity in a much more telling way. The book is also available in Kindle.
The Ocean Plague: or, A Voyage to Quebec in an Irish Emigrant Vessel is based upon the diary of Robert Whyte who, in 1847, crossed the Atlantic from Dublin to Quebec in an Irish emigrant ship. His account of the journey provides invaluable eyewitness testimony to the trauma and tragedy that many emigrants had to face en route to their new lives in Canada and America. The book is also available in Kindle.
The Scotch-Irish in America tells the story of how the hardy breed of men and women, who in America came to be known as the &lsquoScotch-Irish&rsquo, was forged in the north of Ireland during the seventeenth century. It relates the circumstances under which the great exodus to the New World began, the trials and tribulations faced by these tough American pioneers and the enduring influence they came to exert on the politics, education and religion of the country.
Stone Mould for Axes & Bronze Axe from Ancient Ireland - History
LATE S TONE AGE AXES & CELTS
est. 35,000 YEARS AGO TO PRESENT DAY
This article illustrates and describes several examples of stone axes, from different areas of the world, that were once hafted onto handles. They show how similar they are in basic form and function, with a cutting edge on one end and a hafting element on the other. But they also illustrate how variable the design of stone axes have been.
"Among the stone specimens ( in the Smithsonian collection ) there is a very wide range in size, the largest weighing upward of 30 pounds and the smallest scarcely an ounce." --------1912, Frederick Webb Hodge, "Handbook Of American Indians North Of Mexico, vol. I," Smithsonian publication, p. 121.
"The term "celt" is used to refer to an ungrooved, tapered, ground stone axe with a centered edge at one end. An average size is roughly between 3 to 6 inches (8 to 16 cm) in length---." ---------1999, Errett Callahan, "Celts And Axes, Celts In The Pamunkey And Cahokia House Building Projects," Primitive Technology A Book Of Earth Skills, p. 95.
"The indisputable fact that vast areas of Europe, North America, and Asia were forest-covered when the first agriculturists penetrated, meant that some procedures had to be immediately introduced to clear the land for cultivation." ------1973, John Coles, "Archaeology By Experiment" p. 19.
"The clearance of forest may be said to represent the first major impact of man upon his environment, as it was the first step leading to a landscape controlled to a great extent by man." --------1973, John Coles, "Archaeology By Experiment" p. 19.
"Axes with two or more grooves are rare excepting in the Pueblo country, where multiple grooves are common." ----1912, Frederick Webb Hodge, "Handbook Of American Indians North Of Mexico, vol. I," Smithsonian publication, p. 121.
"Field researches have produced a great quantity of stone chopping implements from Neolithic settlements, and certain areas of the Soviet Union have proved exceptionally rich. In the standard archaeological publications these tools are divided into axes, adzes, and chisels." ---------1970, S. A. Semenov, "Prehistoric Technology, An Experimental Study Of The Oldest Tools And Artifacts From And Artifacts From Traces Of Manufacture And Wear," p. 126.
"Australian stone hatchets usually had a dolerite, diorite or basalt head with a ground edge, bound with an adhesive into a wrap-around split-wood handle.----they were an indispensable tool, widely used to extract honey or possums from tree hollows, cut footholds, in tree trunks, remove bark for shelters or canoes or cut and dress blanks for wooden implements" ---------2013, Mike Smith, "The Archaeology Of Australia's Deserts," p. 288.
"Interestingly, however, of the 600,000 stone artifacts recovered ( at the Neolithic sites at Sanakallu-Kupgal in southern India ) during recent investigations, the vast majority (80 to 90 percent) comprised dolerite debitage from the manufacture of bifacial edge-ground axes" --------2007, Adam Brumm, Nicole Boivin, Ravi Korisettar, Jinu Koshy, and Paula Whittaker, "Stone Axe Technology In Neolithic South India: New Evidence From The Sanganakallu-Kupgal Region, Mideastern Karnataka," Asian Perspectives, Vol. 46, No. 1 Spring, p. 66.
"In southern Scandinavia, the recovery of tens of thousands of flint axes makes them one of the most common tool types from the Neolithic (4,000-2,000 B.C.)" --------2011, Lars Larsson, "The Ritual Use Of Axes," Stone Axe Studies III, p. 203.
LATE STONE AGE AXES & CELTS
est. 35,000 YEARS AGO TO PRESENT DAY
Grooved and ungrooved stone axe heads, that were designed to be used on handles, have been reported from practically everywhere in the world. From North America to India and most land masses in between. Their use increased with the development of agrarian societies, mainly to clear land.
CLICK ON PICTURE FOR LARGER IMAGE
AXES AND CELTS
AFRICA, EUROPE, AMERICAS & NEW GUINEA
CLICK ON PICTURE FOR LARGER IMAGE
AXE & CELTS
MADE BY PECKING AND FLAKING
UNITED STATES, GUATEMALA, & DENMARK
MADE BY PERCUSSION FLAKING
GUATEMALA, DENMARK & AFRICA
CLICK ON PICTURE FOR LARGER IMAGE
VERY LARGE CELT
CLICK ON PICTURE FOR LARGER IMAGE
PHOTO CREDIT, PETE BOSTROM & LITHIC CASTING LAB'S COLLECTION OF ORIGINAL IMAGES
COMPUTER ALTERED IMAGE
HAFTED GROOVED AXE
CLICK ON PICTURE FOR LARGER IMAGE
1888, Holmes, William H., "Ancient Art Of The Province Of Chiriqui," Sixth Annual Report Of The Bureau Of Ethnology To The Secretary Of The Smithsonian Institution.
1912, Hodge, Frederick Webb "Handbook Of American Indians North Of Mexico, vol. I," Smithsonian publication.
1970, Semenov, S. A., "Prehistoric Technology, An Experimental Study Of The Oldest Tools And Artifacts From And Artifacts From Traces Of Manufacture And Wear."
1973, Coles, John, "Archaeology By Experiment" p. 19., John Coles, "Archaeology By Experiment."
1983, Morse, Dan F. & Morse, Phyllis A., "Archaeology Of The Central Mississippi Valley."
1985, Agrawal, D. P., "The Archaeology Of India."
1999, Callahan, Errett, "Celts And Axes, Celts In The Pamunkey And Cahokia House Building Projects," Primitive Technology A Book Of Earth Skills.
2007, Brumm, Adam, Boivin, Nicole, Korisettar, Ravi, Koshy, Jinu, and Whittaker, Paula, "Stone Axe Technology In Neolithic South India: New Evidence From The Sanganakallu-Kupgal Region, Mideastern Karnataka," Asian Perspectives, Vol. 46, No. 1 Spring.
2010, Ghosh, Subir, "35,500 Year Old Axe, World's Oldest, Discovered In Australia," Digital Journal.
2011, Larsson, Lars, "The Ritual Use Of Axes," Stone Axe Studies III.
2013, Smith, Mike, "The Archaeology Of Australia's Deserts."
Stone Mould for Axes & Bronze Axe from Ancient Ireland - History
No clear evidence has yet emerged to demonstrate the presence of humankind in Ireland during the Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) period, a time during which much of Ireland was covered by ice sheets. A flint flake from gravel deposits at Mell, near Drogheda, Co. Louth, is the earliest known artefact found in Ireland. Fashioned elsewhere, perhaps between 300,000 and 400,000 BC, it was deposited subsequently by an ice sheet near the Irish coast. From around 12000 BC, the ice sheets melted and woodlands developed, providing a habitat for wildlife that migrated to Ireland via land bridges from Britain and mainland Europe. By around 7000 BC, the earliest Irish settlers were hunting animals, especially wild pigs, gathering wild plants and shellfish, and fishing in lakes, rivers and the sea.
Excavation of the earliest settlements in Ireland has produced tiny blades and points of flint and chert, called microliths that were used in composite harpoon-like implements. Scrapers and stone axes were also utilised. By around 4500 BC, larger flake implements called Bann flakes (so-called because many were found on the shores of the River Bann in the north of Ireland) replaced earlier forms, and polished spearheads of slate or mudstone appeared.
By around 3700 BC, the first farming settlements had been established. Farming was based on imported domesticated cattle, sheep and goats, and on cereals such as wheat and barley. Flint-bladed sickles were used to harvest grain that was ground to flour on saddle querns. The farmers lived in rectangular timber houses, and household goods included pottery bowls used for storage and cooking, while flint javelin heads, arrowheads, blades, knives and scrapers were used for a range of functions. Factories for the quarrying and production of stone axes are known. Some axes may have had ceremonial functions, while the wearing of axe amulets and the deposition of axes in burials would appear to confirm their important status.
Megalithic (large stone) tombs such as portal tombs, court tombs and passage tombs were used for communal burial. This exhibition displays a reconstructed passage tomb incorporating decorated stones from several ruined tombs. However, the precise significance of the decorative motifs on these stones has been lost. Pottery, mace heads, small polished stone balls, beads, amulets and pendants were deposited ritually with the dead, along with phallic-shaped stones and bone pins that may have been associated with fertility rituals. Towards the end of the Neolithic (New Stone Age) period, circular ceremonial enclosures were built of earth and wood, while flat-based pottery and a new form of flint arrowhead made their appearance. The oldest intact Irish vessel is a huge logboat from Addergoole Bog, Lurgan, Co. Galway, hollowed out from the trunk of an oak tree around 2500 BC. It was around this time that the knowledge of metalworking was introduced to Ireland, together with a distinctive type of pottery called Beaker Ware that, all over Europe, is found in association with early metalworking. Ceramic bowls, sometimes with projecting feet, are also known, as are similar vessels carved from wood.
At Mount Gabriel, Co. Cork, a wooden pick, shovel, stone mauls and tapers of resinous wood to provide light were among the equipment found in mines dated to the Early Bronze Age. The earliest metal objects produced in Ireland were flat axes of pure copper that could be cast easily in single-piece stone moulds and hardened by hammering. Later, these were replaced with two-piece stone moulds, allowing for the making of tools and weapons of increasing complexity. A further development was the process of mixing copper with tin to produce bronze. Other products included knives, daggers, sickles, awls, spearheads, razors and halberds (a dagger-like blade attached to a long wooden pole).
The earliest metalsmiths were buried in megalithic monuments known as wedge tombs. However, around 2200 BC these began to be replaced by separate burials of one or more persons either in simple pits or in stone-lined graves known as cists that are sometimes found clustered in cemeteries. In keeping with earlier burial practices, the remains were cremated, but in a new development, unburnt bodies were also interred, usually in a crouched position. Highly decorated pots known as Food Vessels and &ndash very occasionally &ndash other personal possessions accompanied the dead. Gradually, cremation became popular once more, and the burnt bones were placed in large decorated pots called urns, which were inverted in the graves. Different types of urns &ndash Vase, Encrusted, Collared and Cordoned &ndash were used, and in some cases, Food Vessels and tiny vessels called Incense Cups were placed with them, accompanied occasionally by daggers, beads, pins and ceremonial stone battleaxes.
From about 1200 BC, climatic deterioration and other factors resulted in a period of development and innovation. The dead were cremated and sometimes placed in undecorated urns, often buried at the centre of small ring ditches. Metalsmiths made spearheads, rapiers, axes of a type known as palstaves and a range of smaller tools. After 900 BC the production of large numbers of weapons, especially swords, and the deposition of hoards suggest a period of violence and uncertainty. Other weapons and tools were produced including shields, cauldrons, spears and axes as well as tools such as chisels, gouges, punches, tweezers, sickles and knives. Bronze horns were cast in moulds and these are among the oldest known musical instruments from Ireland. Crude, coarsely-made pottery was used for cooking, storage and as containers for the cremated bones of the dead. Wooden trackways were constructed across bogs, and at Doogarrymore, Co. Roscommon, two wooden wheels from a cart used in the 400 BC were found in association with such a trackway.
Stone Mould for Axes & Bronze Axe from Ancient Ireland - History
 The discovery of metal was a key event in human history. This was the first material that could be moulded into any desired shape. Additionally, metal was much stronger than stone and could be put to much more effective uses. The first metal that mankind widely used was bronze - an alloy of copper and tin. Although this new technology arrived in Europe around 4000BC, it did not reach Ireland for a further 2000 years. Settlers from France arrived in Ireland around 2000BC, bringing the knowledge of Bronze working with them and the existing inhabitants learned the trade from them. Slowly the culture of these bronze-working settlers merged with that of the Neolithic Irish and gave birth to the Irish Bronze Age.
Metal Working: Ireland was blessed with relatively rich copper deposits, allowing large quantities of bronze to be produced on the island. However, the copper-rich areas did not necessarily coincide with areas that had been important sources of material in the Neolithic era. Thus, the focal points in Ireland moved to regions that in some cases had been relatively devoid of previous activity, for example western Munster.
The copper itself was mined. At Mount Gabriel, county Cork, lies one of the few Bronze Age mines known anywhere in Europe, other than Austria. Dating from between 1500BC and 1200BC, it consists of 25 shallow mine shafts extending about 5 to 10 metres into the slope. Evidence from inside the mines indicates that the copper ore was probably extracted by lighting fires inside the mine and then, when the mine walls had become hot, water was splashed onto them, thus shattering the ore which could then be removed. Counties Cork and Kerry, on the south-west tip of the island, produced the bulk of Ireland's copper and it has been estimated [3 p114] that together the counties produced 370 tonnes of copper during this era. Given the fact that all Bronze Age artefacts so far found add up to around 0.2% of this total, and notwithstanding those that have been destroyed or lost down the years, it seems that Ireland exported a lot of copper during the Bronze Age. By contrast, there is not much tin in Ireland, and most of the tin that was needed to make the bronze seems to have been imported from what is now England.
What was the copper made into? Much of it was made into bronze axes. Although copper is quite soft, the tin that is alloyed with it to make bronze makes it stronger, and able to be used for longer periods before it requires sharpening. Some bronze was used to make awls and some to made daggers. A few of these items have been found decorated with geometric patterns. The Bronze Age saw a marked increase in the manufacture of weapons that were specifically designed to kill human beings. Towards the end of the Bronze Age, very complex items were being produced, sometimes cast and sometimes made from beaten sheet bronze. Examples include chauldrons and horns.
Image removed at the request of the copyright holder.
The technology for moulding the bronze improved through the Bronze Age. Initially, items were cast by pouring the bronze into a hollowed out stone, such as the one on the left. When removed, this axe head would have been attached to a wooden handle at its narrow end, while the wide, curved end would have become the blade. By the middle Bronze Age, people had invented two-part moulds, where two hollowed stones were put together and metal poured into a gap at the top. This allowed more complex items, such as daggers, to be produced. By the end of the Bronze Age, people were making wax or fat models of what they wanted to cast, putting clay round them and then heating the clay to melt the wax. They then poured in the metal and chipped away the clay once it had set.
The land that had been used in the Neolithic period was the upland areas that had been cleared of forest cover. The lowland areas were still largely forested. However, the end of the Bronze Age seems to have coincided with a general downturn in climatic conditions, bringing wetter and colder conditions to Ireland. Many of the upland areas, already acidifying from over-use, turned into peat-bogs which are very poor agriculturally. Places such as the Ceide Fields, in Mayo, which were arable land in the Neolithic period were covered by the advancing blanket bogs. These blanket bogs had been created on the high land by deforestation and over-grazing, but the wetter weather caused them to extend further downhill. (Prof. Mike Baillie, of Queen's University, Belfast believes that natural disasters caused the climatic downturn. See: http://www.knowledge.co.uk/sis/abstract/baillie.htm.)
At the same time as this, Ireland's population density was rising and this put increased pressure on the land. The only solution was to fell lowland forest, but this required better tools, and the invention of bronze axes came just in time to solve this problem. Thus the Bronze Age in Ireland marks the beginning of the end for Ireland's lowland forests which were systematically cleared over the coming centuries. Many of the myriad of lowland lakes left by the ice age also began to be choked by peat, forming the raised bogs that characterise many parts of lowland Ireland today. As the lakes turned to bog, so the Bronze Age Irish began to build wooden trackways over the bogs, some of which have been found in modern times. A large number of 'hoards' have been found dating from this period - collections of valuables deposited in bogs. The reason why so many people hid their valuables is uncertain, but it is possible that a deteriorating climate may have led to famine and an impulse to hoard valuables. Or perhaps it was simply a custom to place 'offerings' in the bogs.
Bronze Age Megaliths and Tombs [1,2,3]
Single Burials: In eastern Ireland, the people moved away from the traditional megalithic types of tomb, which typified the Neolithic, opting instead for simple pits, or cists containing ashes or even skeletons. Hundreds of such cists have been found in all parts of Ireland, dating between 2000 and 1500BC, but their numbers are greater in Ulster and Leinster. Many of these graves have been found with pottery. Some have postulated that society became more egalitarian in this period, resulting in fewer massive burials such as Newgrange.
Wedge Tombs: In the west of Ireland, a new kind of tomb appeared, possibly built by settlers from France who may have been the first of the groups who would become known as the Celts. So-called Wedge Tombs consist of a narrowing stone chamber covered by a mound of earth. The single entrance almost invariably faces south-west. The most common megalithic feature in Ireland, they are found in western Ulster, Connaught and Munster although there is a huge concentration of 120 examples in a small area of northern county Clare. The wedge tombs in Kerry and Cork are the first megaliths to be found in those areas and this is possibly due to the presence of copper ore in that area and subsequent surge in population. Alternatively, as the Wedge Tombs are found primarily in upland areas they may have been the product of a group of pastoralists who grazed flocks on the uplands of western Ireland, before they turned into bog. The picture above shows Baur South wedge tomb .
Henges: A henge is an earthen circle, probably used for ceremonial purposes. Sometimes constructed around or beside previous Neolithic megaliths, henges were constructed in Ireland in a broad period beginning around 2000BC. By far the highest concentration is in the Boyne Valley of county Meath, already home to the great passage tombs of Knowth and Newgrange. However there are other examples in counties Roscommon, Sligo, Clare, Limerick, Kildare and Waterford. There is a famous and well-preserved henge called the Giant's Ring at Ballynahatty, on the edge of Belfast in county Down (see picture on right. By Barry Hartwell). Henges were constructed by scraping soil from the centre of the circle to form a ridge all around. These henges can measure 100 to 200 metres (330 to 660 feet) across. Within the henges archaeologists have found the systematically cremated remains of animals as well as evidence of wooden and stone posts. This indicates that henges were centres for a religious cult which had its heyday in the first half of the Bronze Age. Henges are also found in Britain.
Stone Circles: Towards the end of the Bronze Age, there appeared another type of ceremonial structure, the Stone Circle. There were constructed in Ireland as well as Britain, and were constructed in large numbers, but mainly concentrated in two small areas. The first is in the Sperrin Mountains of counties Londonderry and Tyrone, while the second is is in the mountains of counties Cork and Kerry. Although both are circles of stone, they are distinctive from one another. The Ulster group are larger, but more irregular and composed of smaller stones. Frequently, a row of stones is set at a tangent to the circle. The most significant example is Beaghmore, near Cookstown in county Tyrone. In the Munster group, the circles are made from larger stones and are associated with stone rows and standing stones. The purpose of stone circles is almost certainly ceremonial. The picture on the right shows a stone circle at Bohonagh, county Cork (image by Dept of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht).
Everyday Life in Bronze Age Ireland [2,3]
Houses: It seems that the Bronze Age Irish lived in houses that were similar to those of the Neolithic that is, rectangular or circular houses constructed from timber beams with wattle-and-daub walls and thatched roofs made from reeds (there is evidence from Carrigillihy, county Cork that some stone houses may have been built , but this seems dubious). The circular houses would have been from 4 to 7 metres (13 to 23 feet) in diameter and supported by a central post. Some other houses may have been constructed from sods of earth placed within a wooden frame. Many houses would have had a circular wooden fence making an enclosure in front of the house. There was sometimes a circular ditch around the whole property which was both defensive and kept animals in.
Cooking: If you look carefully and in just the right places, you may see a horse-shoe shaped mound faintly discernible in an otherwise flat field. If so, there is a good chance that you are looking at a Bronze Age cooking place (fulacht fian in the Irish language). A wood-lined trough was dug in the ground and filled with water. Beside the trough, a fire was lit and stones heated in the fire. These stones were then thrown into the water. Once it was hot enough, meat could be boiled in the water. The broken, used stones were hurled off to one side and formed, over the course of some years, the distinctive horseshow mound. These fulacht fian are very common in Ireland, particularly in the south-west. Experiments have shown that the water can be brought to the boil in 30 minutes by this method, and a 4.5kg leg of mutton was successfully cooked in just under 4 hours. Geoffrey Keating, an historian writing in the 17th century, has first-hand accounts of this method of cooking being used in Ireland as recently as the 1600s AD. His account also seems to suggest that the method was also used to heat water for washing.
Language: We cannot know what language that the Bronze Age people of Ireland spoke. When the Celts arrived in Ireland at the end of the Bronze Age, they brought a central European language with them that must have been heavily influenced by the native language or languages of Ireland. It was these Celtic languages that would be the origins of the modern Irish language. While Bronze Age language would be totally incomprehensible to an Irish speaker of today, it may well be one of its distant roots.
Agriculture: Agriculture continued much as it did in the Neolithic, albeit on a larger scale. More lowland forests were cleared to make farmland which was used for grazing or for growing cerial crops. With the climatic downturn in the Bronze Age, getting a living from the land may have been harder than in the Neolithic. However, the use of metal tools probably offset any disadvantage.
War: As the population grew, the average Bronze Age farmer is likely to have traded with nearby farming communities. However, population pressures may also have sparked off wars between communities. Bronze weapons are the first that seem to have been designed with humans in mind.
 A Weir, "Early Ireland: A Field Guide", Blackstaff Press, 1980
 G. Stout and M. Stout, writing in the "Atlas of the Irish Rural Landscape", Cork University Press, 1997, pp31-63
 P Harbinson: "Pre-Christian Ireland, from the First Settlers to the Early Celts", Thames and Hudson, 1994
Archaeology for Kids Stone, Bronze, Iron Age
The Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age are three period of history identified by the way people made tools and weapons. Different ancient civilizations developed at different speeds. So you might have one group of early people using bronze tools, while another group was still using stone tools. Those with better tools had a much easier time conquering other groups of people. The material used to make tool and weapons most definitely had an influence on daily life in ancient times.
Stone Age man did not have sharp claws or strong sharp teeth. He was not larger or stronger than other animals. He could not run like a deer or an antelope. To survive, early man invented and created stone and bone weapons and tools. With these tools, early man could kill and trap those animals he needed for food. With stone axes and spears, he could defend against those animals that thought he might be food. Since many of the tools he created were made out of stone, this is called the Stone Age. The Stone Age is considered to have begun about two million years ago, and ended sometime after the end of the last ice age about ten thousand years ago.
The Bronze Age in ancient China started around 1700 BCE. This is when men learned how to mine copper and tin to make bronze weapons. Bronze is a combination of 10% tin and 90% copper. Bronze weapons are much stronger than stone weapons. The discovery of bronze changed a great many things. For one thing, miners and craftsmen were needed to mine tin and copper, to make bronze weapons. That meant farmers had to learn how to produce more food than they needed because not everyone was farming. That meant weavers and potters were needed to clothe the miners and craftsmen, and to provide pottery containers to the farmers to use to store food. There were many new inventions once the Bronze Age began in ancient China. Most people were still farmers, but labor was getting organized.
The Iron Age followed the Bronze Age. This was the period of time when people made tools of iron. Iron tools were stronger than bronze tools. Weapons were more powerful. Iron weapons began in the Middle East and in southeastern Europe around 1200 BCE. They did not show up in China until around 600 BCE.
The Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age are called the three-age system. The years assigned to each of these ages are a guess - they are not accurate because different civilizations developed at different speeds. But looking back through time, each ancient civilization went though a Stone Age (stone tools and weapons), then a Bronze Age (bronze tools and weapons), then an Iron Age (iron tools and weapons). Weapons appeared in different civilizations at different times through invention, trade and conquest. Once better weapons arrived, they made a big difference.
Each improvement in tools and weapons led to other improvements in each civilization, improvements such as new inventions, better production of food, and new or improved goods. These inventions depended upon the type of material discovered and then used. Thus, the material used to make tool and weapons had a great influence on daily life in ancient times.
Bronze was one of the first metals humans used to make tools and weapons. The appearance of bronze implements in the archaeological record indicates the end of the Stone Age in that area.
Producing bronze, a combination of copper and tin, requires a lot of specialized, coordinated effort. First, you must mine or otherwise obtain the raw metals. Then you have to melt, refine and mix the metals. Finally, you must master the technology of making molds to cast the metals into something useful.
Archaeologists excavating the Roman fort at Arbeia in England
Scientists have noted that, when some cultures started to use bronze, they also tended to start living in cities. Cities, supported by agricultural surplus, have different people doing different jobs, and a centralized government to coordinate the work—the exact conditions needed to produce bronze. Thus, bronze may have been factor in the rise of some urban centers.
Bronze also encouraged trade networks. Copper and tin are mined in only a few places. These raw materials were often traded and transported over long distances. The finished products could also be used for trade, or as a form of money.
Merchants and metalsmiths would bury tools of all different shapes and styles in founder’s hoards. They planned to trade or recycle the items later. Sometimes these hoards were lost or forgotten, only to be discovered by archaeologists thousands of years later.
Ancient Irish Weapons, Ornaments, etc.
Torques and Golden Ornaments&mdashSwords, Spear-heads, and Celts of Bronze&mdashWeapons of Stone&mdashSepulchral Urns&mdashQuadrangular Bells&mdashCrooks and Crosiers&mdashCross of Cong&mdashOrnamented Cases for Sacred Writings&mdashWeapons of Iron and Steel
From A Hand-book of Irish Antiquities by William F. Wakeman
EGARDING the vast number of antiques discovered from year to year (we might almost write daily) in the bogs, beds of rivers, and newly-ploughed lands of Ireland, we cannot help regretting that the feeling which now very generally leads to the preservation of these evidences of ancient Irish civilization, should have slept so long. Let any one inquire of a country watchmaker, of a few years' standing, whether he has ever been offered for sale any antique ornaments of gold or silver, and, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, his answer will be, "Yes, many: but, as there was no one to purchase them, I melted them down." If questioned as to their form and character, he will describe rings, fibulae, bracelets, perhaps torques, &c., generally adding that he regretted their destruction, as they were curiously engraved.
Bronze weapons, and articles of domestic use, suffered a similar fate in the foundries. Weapons of stone or iron, being of no intrinsic value, were completely disregarded, indeed it was but very lately that any antiques of the latter material were supposed to remain. At length a few private individuals, of known learning and taste, began to form collections. Fifteen or twenty years ago, antiques in Ireland were much more easily obtained than at present, and their success was very considerable. To form a museum then required neither the expenditure of much time nor money, and the example was soon followed by gentlemen in many parts of the country. Still, however, the destruction was only abated, and few of the collectors were possessed of sufficient knowledge to enable them to discriminate between objects of real national interest, and such as would now be considered unimportant. The Dublin Penny Journal, a weekly publication, in which numerous woodcuts, accompanied with letter-press descriptions of objects of Irish antiquarian interest, were, for the first time, presented to the public, did much to dispel this ignorance. Other publications followed, new collectors appeared, a general interest was excited, and it is to be hoped that, for some years back, there have been few instances of the wanton destruction of any remarkable relic of ancient Ireland. Any attempt to describe in a volume such as this a number of the objects of interest deposited in our public museums, or in the cabinets of private collectors, would prove utterly abortive but a glance at some of the most remarkable of those now preserved in the collection of the Royal Irish Academy, and in that of the College of Saint Columba, at Stackallen, will probably interest some of our readers. The former may be inspected by any visitor, upon the introduction of a member.
The Royal Irish Academy, for the Study of Polite Literature, Science, and Antiquities, was instituted in 1786. Its Museum has been only a few years in progress, yet it comprises the finest collection of Celtic antiquities known to exist. Many of the objects are presentations, others have been merely deposited for exhibition in the Museum, but the great mass of the collection has been purchased by the Academy with funds raised by subscription among its members, and other patriotic individuals, the annual grant from Government being very trifling, and wholly disproportionate to the importance of the Society. A visitor, upon entering the room in which the antiques are shewn, is immediately struck with the rich display of golden ornaments, consisting of torques, collars, crescents, fibulae, &c. One of the torques measures five feet seven inches in length, and weighs twenty-seven ounces and nine penny-weights. A second weighs twelve ounces and six penny-weights. These were discovered in 1810 by a man engaged in the removal of an old bank upon the celebrated Hill of Tara, and they subsequently became the property of the late Duke of Sussex, after whose death they were purchased, and secured to this country, by subscriptions raised chiefly among members of the Academy.
Torques appear to have been common among the Gauls, Britons, and other Celtic people, from a very remote period. Plates of gold, in the form of a crescent, the ends of which are turned off, and formed of small circular pieces of about an inch in diameter, have very frequently been discovered in Ireland. They are generally ornamented with engraved borders, similar in design to the decorations most common upon sepulchral urns but several examples are quite plain, and others are engraved upon one side only. The Academy contains several of these singular antiques. In the same case with the torques is a fine and richly carved bulla, found about a century ago in the bog of Allen.
A second is preserved in the museum of the College of Saint Columba, but it is without ornament.
The Academy Museum contains an example of almost every kind of Celtic ornament of gold hitherto discovered, and several that are unique. The bronze antiques consist of swords, skeans, spear-heads, celts or axes, bridle-bits, spurs, chains, &c. &c., and there are numerous pots, vessels, and other articles of the same period and material. The general form of swords of the bronze age will be best understood by reference to the wood-cut, which represents two of several now deposited in the museum of the College of Saint Columba.
The spear-heads are extremely various in form, but they are generally well designed, and not unfrequently ornamented. As examples we have engraved three from the collection at Stackallen, but there are many specimens, and several of great beauty, in the Royal Irish Academy. The most common weapon in use among the ancient inhabitants of Ireland appears to have been a kind of axe, now generally called a celt. Its material is bronze, and it appeals to have been used contemporaneously with swords and spearheads, of which we have just given examples. The celt is rarely more than seven inches in length, and several have been preserved which measure scarcely an inch and a half. There are two kinds: the most common is flat and wedge-shaped, and appears to have been fixed by its smaller end in a wooden handle the other is hollow, and furnished with a small loop upon one side (see cut 3), through which, it is supposed, a string, securing it to the handle, anciently passed Ancient moulds of sandstone, used in the casting of swords, spear-heads, and celts, such as we have described, have often been found in Ireland.
The museum also contains a fine collection of stone hatchets, arrow and spear heads, and knives of flint, besides a variety of other articles of stone belonging to a very remote and unknown period.
Stone weapons have frequently been found in every county in Ireland but in Ulster especially they are very common. The engravings represent a variety of the stone hammers, and of arrow and spear heads.
There are also in the collection a considerable number of sepulchral urns, several of which may challenge comparison with any hitherto discovered in Great Britain. Our first illustration represents an urn of stone said to have been brought from the mound of Nowth (see page 31), in the county of Meath. Its sides are sculptured with representations of the sun and moon, but otherwise it is not remarkable in its decorations. The dimensions of this urn are,&mdashdepth, nine inches, breadth across the mouth, nine inches and a half, and it is about one foot in height.
Our second example, from a grave at Kilmurry, was presented to the Academy by Thomas Black, Esq. It measures five inches across the mouth, and four in depth, and is formed, as usual, of clay.
The urn represented in the annexed cut was found in the rath of Donagare, in the county of Antrim. It is ornamented in a manner somewhat unusual. The Museum contains several other urns quite perfect, and many fragments variously ornamented, and of great interest but as the space which we can devote to remains of this class is necessarily limited, we are reluctantly obliged to leave them unnoticed.
Among the bronze antiquities, several horns or trumpets, of great size, are remarkable. That they were manufactured by the same ancient people by whom the celts and other brazen weapons were used, there cannot now be a doubt, though Ledwich, Beaufort, and other writers, have assigned them to the Danes. Many specimens have, from time to time, been discovered in this country. There is a record often or twelve having been found together in a bog in the county of Cork. We are told by ancient writers that the Gauls and other Celtic nations were in the habit of using horns and trumpets to increase the din of battle, and it is more than probable that the horns so often found in Ireland, a country rich in Celtic antiquities generally, are of the kind alluded to. A bare enumeration of the various weapons, ornaments, vessels, &c., of the Pagan era, which are preserved in the Academy, and which, it may be remarked, exhibit in their workmanship a degree of excellence generally in proportion to their antiquity, would occupy a greater space than the limits assigned to this notice will allow. Therefore, in order to afford the reader an insight to the character of the collection generally, we shall pass at once to objects of the early Christian period, a class of antiquities in which the Academy is also rich. Among these the ancient quadrangular bells of iron or bronze are, perhaps, not the least interesting. Bells appear to have been used in Ireland as early as the time of St. Patrick. They are mentioned in the lives of most of the early saints, in the Annals of the Four Masters, and in other ancient compositions. Cambrensis, in his Welsh Itinerary, says, that both the laity and clergy in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, held in such veneration certain portable bells, that they were much more afraid of swearing falsely by them than by the Gospels, "because of some hidden and miraculous power with which they were gifted, and by the vengeance of the saint to whom they were particularly pleasing, their despisers and transgressors were severely punished."*
The bells so highly reverenced by the Irish during the middle ages had severally belonged to some one of the early founders of Christianity in this island, and had been preserved, from the time of the saint, in a monastery which he had originally founded, or elsewhere in the custody of an hereditary keeper.
In like manner the pastoral crooks and crosiers, which had belonged to the early fathers of the Irish Church, appear to have been regarded as holy. Notwithstanding the frequent pillage of Church property by the Danes, and the unsparing destruction of "superstitious" relics during a comparatively late period, numerous examples, remarkable for the beauty of their decorations and the excellence of their workmanship, have been preserved to our own times. There is scarcely any variety in the form of the early crooks they are simply curved, like those used by shepherds, but they usually exhibit a profusion of ornament, consisting of elaborately interwoven bands, terminating generally in serpents' heads, or in some equally singular device. In several specimens, settings formed of stones, or an artificial substance variously coloured, occur, but this is supposed to indicate a comparatively recent date. A visitor to the Academy may inspect several examples remarkable as well for their extreme beauty, as for the excellent state of preservation in which they remain.
The Cross of Cong, the gem of the Academy collection, affords most striking evidence of the advancement which the Irish artificers had made in several of the arts, and in general manufacturing skill, previous to the arrival of the English.
It was made at Roscommon, by native Irishmen, about the year 1123, in the reign of Turlogh O'Conor, father of Roderick, the last monarch of Ireland, and contains what was supposed to be a piece of the true cross, as inscriptions in Irish, and Latin in the Irish character, upon two of its sides, distinctly record: see Irish Grammar, by J. O'Donovan, page 234. The preceding illustration, which is from the pencil of Mr. Du Noyer, an artist whose power and accuracy, as an antiquarian draughtsman, have gained him well-merited distinction, will afford but a very general idea of the original, as the extremely minute and elaborate ornaments, with which it is completely covered, and a portion of which is worked in pure gold, could not possibly be expressed on so reduced a scale. The ornaments generally consist of tracery and grotesque animals, fancifully combined, and similar in character to the decorations found upon crosses of stone of about the same period. A large crystal, through which a portion of the wood which the cross was formed to enshrine is visible, is set in the centre, at the intersection.
The Academy owes the possession of this unequalled monument of ancient Irish art to the liberality of the late Professor MacCullagh, by whom it was purchased for the sum of one hundred guineas, and presented.
Among the more singular relics in the collection, a chalice of stone, the subject of the annexed wood-cut, is well worthy of observation. Though formed of so rude a material, there is nothing in its general form, or in the character of its decorations, to warrant a supposition that it belongs to a very early period. Few chalices of an age prior to the twelfth century remain in Ireland, and any of a later period which have come under the observation of the writer are not very remarkable. A chalice of silver found in the ruins of Kilmallock Abbey, was melted some years ago by a silversmith of Limerick, into whose hands it had fallen. Cups of stone appear not to have been uncommon among the Irish. An ancient vessel of that material, of a triangular form, remains, or very lately remained by the side of a holy well in Columbkill's Glen, in the county of Clare, and another was found last year in the county of Meath, near the ruins of Ardmulchan Church.
The copies of the Gospels, and other sacred writings, which had been used by the early saints of Ireland, were generally preserved by their successors, enclosed in cases formed of yew, or some wood equally durable. Many of those cases were subsequently enshrined, or enclosed in boxes of silver, or of bronze richly plated with silver, and occasionally gilt and in several instances a third case appears to have been added. Sir William Betham, in his Irish Antiquarian Researches, describes several of those evidences of early Irish piety, still extant, and remaining in a high state of preservation. They are the Caah, or Cathach, the Meeshac, and the Leabhar Dhimma.
The Caah, which has been lately deposited in the Museum of the Academy, is a box about nine inches and a half in length, eight in breadth, and two in thickness, formed of brass plates, rivetted one to the other, and ornamented with gems and chasings in gold and silver. It contains, as usual, a rude wooden box, "enclosing a MS. on vellum, a copy of the ancient Vulgate translation of the Psalms, in Latin, consisting of fifty-eight membranes." This MS. there is every reason to believe was written by the hand of St. Columba, or Columbkille, the Apostle of the Northern Picts, and founder of an almost incredible number of monasteries in Ireland, his native country.
A glance at the decoration displayed upon the top of the box will convince the critical antiquary of the comparatively late date of this portion of the relic. The top is ornamented with a silver plate, richly gilt, and divided into three compartments by clustered columns supporting arches. The central space is somewhat larger than the others, and contains the figure of an ecclesiastic, probably St. Columba, who is represented in a sitting posture, giving the benediction, and holding a book in his left hand. The arch of this compartment is pointed, while the others are segmental. The space to the right of the centre is occupied by the figure of a bishop or mitred abbot, giving the benediction with his right hand, while in his left he holds the staff.
The compartment to the left of the central division contains a representation of the Passion. There are figures of angels with censers over each of the side arches. A border, within which the whole is enclosed, is formed at the top and bottom of a variety of fabulous animals the sides represent foliage, and in each angle there is a large rock crystal. A fifth setting of crystal, surrounded with smaller gems, occurs immediately over the figure, which was probably intended to represent St. Columba. The sides and ends of the box are also richly chased. An inscription in the Irish character, upon the bottom, desires "a prayer for Cathbar O'Donell, by whom the cover was made," and for Sitric, the grandson of Hugh, who made * * *
The Caah appears to have been handed down from a very early period in the O'Donell family, of which Saint Columba, the supposed writer of the manuscript which it was made to enshrine, was a member. The Domnach Airgid, also preserved in the Academy, is perhaps the most precious relic of the kind under notice now remaining in the country, as it contains, beyond a doubt, a considerable portion of the copy of the Holy Gospels which were used by Saint Patrick during his mission in Ireland, and which were presented by him to Saint Macarthen. Unfortunately, the membranes of which this singularly interesting manuscript is composed, have, through the effects of time and neglect, become firmly attached to each other but as several have been successfully removed from the mass, it is to be hoped that the whole may yet be examined.
Dr. Petrie, in a valuable paper upon the Domnach Airgid, published in the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, has described the manuscript as having three distinct covers: the first, and most ancient, of wood&mdashyew the second of copper, plated with silver and the third of silver, plated with gold. The outer and least ancient cover possesses many features in common with that of the Caah, though it is probably of an age somewhat later. The plated box enclosing the original wooden case is of very high antiquity. See Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, vol. xx.
While our public and private museums abound in antiques formed of stone, earthenware, glass, bronze, and even of the precious metals, few relics of an early age composed of iron or steel have been found in a state of preservation sufficient to render them of value to the antiquary as evidences relative to the taste, habits, or manufacturing skill of the people or period to which, from their peculiarities, they might be referred. This may in a great measure be attributed to an opinion generally received, that iron is incapable of resisting decomposition for any length of time when buried in the earth, or exposed to atmospheric influences. To a certain extent the fallacy of this supposition has of late been proved by the discovery, at Loch Gabhair, near Dunshaughlin, and elsewhere, of a considerable number of weapons, &c. &c., of iron, which there is every reason to refer to a period not later than the eleventh century, and which are here found in connexion with articles of bronze and bone, chased and carved in a style peculiar to a period at least antecedent to the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland. The Academy museum contains many specimens of swords, axes, and spear-heads, besides many antiques of a less obvious character, found at Dunshaughlin. Their preservation may be attributed to the fact of their having been buried among an immense quantity of bones, the decomposition of which, by forming a phosphate of lime, admitted but of a partial corrosion of the metal. There are also a number of swords and other weapons found near Island-bridge by labourers engaged in clearing the ground upon which the terminus of the Dublin and Cashel railway now stands. Their preservation is not easily to be accounted for, unless it be shewn that the earth in which they were found contains a peculiar anticorrosive property, as, although some bones were also found, their number was insufficient to warrant a supposition that their presence had in any remarkable degree affected the nature of the soil. The swords are long and straight, formed for cutting as well as thrusting, and terminate in points formed by rounding off the edge towards the back of the blade. The hilts are very remarkable in form, and in one or two instances are highly ornamented, as in the example given upon the next page. The mountings were generally of a kind of brass, but several richly plated with silver were found, and it is said that one of the swords had a hilt of solid gold. The spears are long and slender, and similar in form to the lance-heads used in some of the cavalry corps. The axe-heads are large and plain, and were fitted with wooden handles, which, as might be expected, have long since decayed. A number of iron knobs of a conical form, measuring in diameter about four inches, were also found. They are supposed to have been attached as bosses to wooden shields, of which they are the only remains.
All these weapons, with one exception, are composed of a soft kind of iron. Many of the swords were found doubled up, a circumstance for which it is difficult to assign a reason, as they had evidently been purposely bent. The sword represented in the engraving is remarkable for the unusual degree of ornament which appears upon its hilt, and also for its material, steel.
From several circumstances relative to the neighbourhood in which these remains were found, as well as from certain peculiarities in their form and character, our most judicious antiquaries have been almost unanimous in pronouncing them Danish and their opinion was fully borne out by that expressed by the celebrated Danish antiquary, Warsaae, during his visit to Dublin in the beginning of this year.
Several axe-heads, discovered with many other antiques of various periods in the bed of the Shannon, and presented to the Academy by the Commissioners, are generally supposed to be Norman but they are quite as likely to have been used by the Irish, with whom the axe was a favourite weapon.
Giraldus Cambrensis, in the reign of King John, thus speaks of the power with which the Irish of his time were wont to wield the battle-axe: "They hold the axe with one hand, not with both, the thumb being stretched along the handle, and directing the blow, from which neither the helmet erected into a cone can defend the head, nor the iron mail the rest of the body whence it happens that in our times the whole thigh (coxa) of a soldier, though ever so well cased in iron mail, is cut off by one blow of the axe, the thigh, and the leg falling on one side of the horse, and the dying body on the other."&mdashGiven by John O'Donovan, in his account of the battle of Clontarf, Dublin Penny Journal, vol. i.
In conclusion we may remark, that a few hours' examination of the truly national collection of antiquities preserved in the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy alone, will afford an inquirer a more correct knowledge of the taste, habits, and manufacturing skill of the ancient Irish, than may be obtained by mere reading, even should he devote years, instead of days, to the attainment of his object.