Archaeology Museum

Tribal Dublin - The First Irish

National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology

The first Irish arrived here about 10,000 years ago. These people were hunter-gatherers and their way of life endured for more than 3,000 years.

From studies of similar societies and the carrying capacity of the land, scholars can estimate Ireland's human population when these hunter gatherers roamed the island. Best guess: about 7,000 people. Dublin’s population, then, would have been about 220 people spread in small tribal groups.

This was the Mesolithic period, the Middle Stone Age. Tools were fashioned from wood, bone and tiny chips of flint called microliths. Woven baskets and bags and snares were used to gather plant foods and small game. Mesolithic groups would have moved about within large territories, visiting the sea shore during the winter, rivers during the salmon run and the hills and mountains during hazel nut gathering and hunting seasons.

The traces left by these people are few. Several carefully excavated fire pits, piles of clam shells, post holes and similar detritus are all that remain. But, you can see some of their tools at the National Museum Kildare Street.

Enter the museum and your eye is immediately drawn to the fabulous gold objects, the largest prehistoric gold collection in Europe. Ignore these bright and beckoning artifacts. Instead, examine the case of teenchy flints you’ll find on your left. These are the microliths, or "tiny stones", with which the early Irish successfully conquered Ireland.

They’re not very impressive, but they are a triumph of human ingenuity. If you need to move around a lot from one small forest clearing to the next, what better tools to carry than nearly weightless collections of flint that could be fashioned into whatever tool you’d need? Harpoons for visits to the sea and rivers, arrow heads for small game, drills for piercing animal skins.

As you wander through the wonders created by later generations of Irish artisans, take a head count of your fellow museum visitors. Odds are, you’re sharing this one building with more people than lived in all of Dublin and vicinity some 10 millennia ago.

by Scott Simons