Thursday, February 20, 2014

#Ireland Through Time: Glacial Ireland

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The Emerald Isle Through Time: 

Glacial Ireland

Welcome to my series The Emerald Isle Through Time. Ireland has been occupied since 8000 BC and her people have a rich, vibrant cultural heritage that has been threatened many times through a series of invasions. Cultural changes often occur when one society interacts with another. This has been true for the Irish people. This series will explore those cultural changes and how they affected the native Irish people.

The beautiful picture to the left is a familiar image to most people. It was taken by NASA and shows the why Ireland is commonly referred to as the Emerald Isle. Yet Ireland wasn't always an island.

The Pleistocene Epoch, most commonly know as the Last Ice Age, lasted from 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago. During this time, Ireland was attached to the European continent. Before the Ice Age, Ireland shared a lush landscape full of tall mountains and forests with Great Britain. Great Britain was attached to France. Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens dwelt in the area around 40,000 - 30,000 years ago. Archaeologists have found evidence of their habitation in Scotland and Wales but not in Ireland, although the two islands were connected on the mainland. The two species probably hunted in the Irish area. The first mammals to settle in Ireland was around 48,000 years ago. Ireland had plenty of wildlife to offer. Remains of the Arctic lemming, giant deer, reindeer and brown bear from 32,000 years ago have been found in Ireland. There is evidence of the Mammoth roaming the Irish countryside but the giant elephant had disappeared from the area before humans arrived.

Humans and most of the wildlife left the area when the glaciers arrived from Scandinavia around 30,000 years ago. Ice sheets more than 9,800 feet thick pulverized the mountains and reshaped the landscape. Ireland laid under glacial ice for most of the Ice Age.

A warmer climate appeared in Europe from 17,500 and 12,000 years ago and the glaciers began to retreat. Ireland's landscape was drastically changed by the glaciers and we owe it's modern shape to this process. Here is a map that shows how Ireland's landscape changed.

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After the glaciers retreated the sea levels rose so dramatically that part of the Irish coast was flooded. The Irish and North Seas were created. Ireland was left as an Arctic desert or tundra. It's landscape was comprised of badly drained areas with thousands of shallow lakes (3-20 feet deep). As the climate warmed plants would grow along the side of these lakes. When they died they would fall into the lake and the process would repeat. Layers upon layers of plants would stack upon each other. These lakes eventually became the bogs that would later be used by the Irish as a fuel source.

Between 17,500 and 12,000 years ago humans returned to the area from Southern France yet did not settled in Ireland. Humans did not settle in Ireland but they might have used the land as a fishing location. Archaeologists have uncovered a site daring to 13,000 years ago on the eastern side of the Irish Sea that indicates humans in the area were consuming a marine diet.

The landscape was constantly changing as the climate warmed. The new river pattern in Ireland was unlike anything it had ever experienced before. The seas continued to rise at an alarming rate. The sea bridge that connected Ireland and England eventually sunk into the sea around 12,000 years ago.  The rising sea levels eventually broke the bond that held Ireland in place 9,500 years ago.

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