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Did climatic change play a role in the introduction of farming in Neolithic Ireland?

08 September 2021

In today's blog on Climate and Society in Ireland, Meriel McClatchie and Aaron Potito trace environmental, climatic and social change in Neolithic Ireland.

Climate and Society in Ireland is a collection of essays, commissioned by the Royal Irish Academy, that provides a multi-period, interdisciplinary perspective on one of the most important challenges currently facing humanity. In Chapter 2, Meriel McClatchie (University College Dublin) and Aaron Potito (National University of Ireland Galway) review archaeological and palaeoecological evidence for environments and climate in Neolithic Ireland and consider their complex relationships with contemporary social change.  

The Neolithic period in Ireland (4000–2500 BC) was a time of profound social change. When compared with the preceding Mesolithic period, Neolithic communities developed new ways of constructing their houses, burying their dead, and procuring and preparing their food. The introduction of farming into Ireland fundamentally changed how society was organised and the environments in which people lived. It is not yet clear if climatic change played a role in the initial uptake of farming during the Early Neolithic or in its decreased signal during the Middle–Later Neolithic. Recognising and understanding these changes have long been a focus of scholarship in Irish archaeology. Until relatively recently, the environmental and climatic contexts of these changes have been less well understood, in part because tracing environmental and climatic change is challenging. This issue can be addressed, however, through an interdisciplinary approach. Chapter 2 will review our understanding of environments and climate in Neolithic Ireland, drawing upon evidence from archaeology, archaeobotany, zooarchaeology, palynology, palaeolimnology, organic residues, stable isotopes and sediment geochemistry. These sources have been selected because they provide diverse datasets and theoretical perspectives; integration of these sources has the potential to facilitate more nuanced understandings of how people interacted with their environments in Neolithic Ireland, and the potential impacts of changing environments and climate. The paper will start by exploring how different data sources can be drawn upon, followed by a diachronic perspective towards examining environmental interactions and climatic change at different times during the Neolithic. The paper will discuss the implications of these data for understanding past societies, environments and climate, and concludes with an assessment of whether, and if so to what extent, social and environmental changes in Neolithic Ireland were linked.

To continue reading, purchase Climate and Society in Ireland.

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