The earliest known settlers in Co Cork were hunter-gatherers who lived near Fermoy more than 10,100 years ago.
That’s according to archaeologists who will reveal a wealth of information about our ancestors when they launch a book published by the National Roads Authority on Dec 10 at UCC.
It details illustrated accounts of the 114 significant excavations undertaken in the county, revealing a wealth of previously unrecorded sites, each adding to our understanding of the story of Cork — going back to the county’s first known settlers, more than 500 generations ago.
While the 8,100BC settlement in Fermoy, uncovered during the construction of the M8, is deemed to be the oldest, evidence of similarly ancient hunter-gatherers was discovered near Ballincollig and Youghal.
NRA project archaeologist Ken Hanley, who edited the book, said a lakeside wooden hunting platform and an antler from a giant elk, which had been fashioned into a tool by humans, were found at the oldest known site at Corrin, Fermoy.
He said there was evidence that, around that time, part of a large forest in the area was burned down to make way for a settlement.
Houses built by Cork’s first farmers (c.3,900BC) were found near Ballincollig and Fermoy, while a substantial Bronze Age settlement was found near Rathcormac.
The most exceptional discovery was the Mitchelstown Face Cup, dating to the Bronze Age.
“This is the oldest known three-dimensional representation of a person ever discovered in Ireland,” said Mr Haney. “It was radio carbon-dated to 1,800BC. It is unique. It came as a complete surprise. It was a spectacular find.”
A sauna dating to 1,400BC was uncovered at Scartbarry, near Watergrasshill.
“Two substantial early medieval settlements were discovered at Curraheen, near Bishopstown and at Ballynacarriga on Youghal bypass. Both date to the seventh century AD,” said Mr Hanley.
An Anglo-Norman moated settlement, built in the 13th century, was unearthed at Ballinvinny South, north-east of Glanmire.
The same settlement was later occupied in the 17th century and held a horde of James II coins.
“These weren’t ordinary coins,” said Mr Hanely. “[James] had no money. Instead of using gold and silver coins he smelted coins from cheaper metals to pay his soldiers.”
The tokens were to be redeemed for real money if he won the war against William of Orange, but he didn’t and so they were worthless.
All the finds were made courtesy of NRA funding in five road projects: Glanmire-Watergrasshill bypass (N8); Rathcormac-Fermoy motorway (M8); Mitchelstown Relief Roads (N8/N73); Ballincollig bypass (N22); and Youghal bypass (N25).
The NRA has funded more than 2,000 excavations on national road projects since it was established in 1994.
lThe book, which costs €35, will be launched by Dr Ann Lynch of the Department of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht at UCC, at 7pm on Dec 10.
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