A group of researchers last week set out on an undersea expedition to look for evidence of the first ‘Irish’ settlers.
The team, which includes researchers from University College Cork, IT Sligo, the University of Bradford and the Irish Marine Institute, explored the seabed landscape between Ireland and Britain submerged after the last Ice Age.
At that time the world’s sea level rose 120 metres submerging an area more than twice that of the modern United States. Beneath the waves of the Irish Sea is said to be a prehistoric ‘palaeolandscape’ of plains, hills, marshlands and river valleys in which researchers expect to find evidence of the earliest human activity.
Doggerland, an area of the southern north Sea is currently the best-known example of a palaeolandscape in Europe and has been extensively researched by Professor Vince Gaffney, who is leading the Irish Sea project, called europe’s Lost frontiers.
The submerged land is believed to hold valuable evidence of the first settlers of Ireland and the lands along the Atlantic corridor. Sediment was collected by the Irish research vessel RV Celtic Voyager off Liverpool and Cardigan Bay during their week-long expedition.
The scientists dredged up parts of the seabed, using radar to avoid shipwrecks and sent the sediment to be analysed for DNA at a laboratory at the University of Warwick. Yesterday the team was extracting sediment from a site near Cardigan Bay, off the coast of Wales. The expedition will finish tomorrow and it will take six months to draw conclusions from the sample analysis.
“We’re using cutting-edge technology to retrieve the first evidence for life within landscapes that were inundated by rising sea levels thousands of years ago.
“This is the first time that this range of techniques has been employed on submerged landscapes under the Irish Sea,” said one of the lead scientists Dr James Bonsall.
“Today we perceive the Irish Sea as a large body of water, a sea that separates us from Britain and mainland europe, a sea that gives us an identity as a proud island nation.
“But 18,000 years ago, Ireland, Britain and Europe were part of a single landmass that gradually flooded over thousands of years, forming the islands that we know today.
“We’re going to find out where, when, why and how people lived on a landscape that today is located beneath the waves”.