23rd May

Lost landscapes of the Irish Sea

Scientists from both sides of the Irish Sea have completed a week-long expedition that explored extensive submerged landscapes been Ireland and Britain, and sampled sediment from 20 sites in Liverpool and Cardigan Bays. 

Lost Frontiers 2018

Scientific crew of RV Celtic Voyager, l-r: Dr Martin Bates; Rosie Everett; Eithne Davis; Dr C Richard Bates and Kevin Kearney

IT Sligo, University College Cork and the  Marine Institute joined the University of Bradford's 'Europe's Lost Frontiers' on board the Marine Institute's Celtic Voyager to study a 'palaeolandscape' of plains, hills, marshlands and river valleys 'in which evidence of human acivity is expected to be preserved', according to project team.

Following the last Ice Age, large areas of habitable land were submerged following climate change and global sea level rise of 120 metres. An area more than twice thatof the modern USA was lost to the sea. 

The landscape is similar to Doggerland, an area of the southern North Sea and currently the best-known example of a palaeolandscape in Europe, explained Professor Vince Gaffney, Principal Investigator of the project.

"Research by the project team has also provided accurate maps for the submerged lands that lie between Ireland and Britain. These are suspected to hold crucial information regarding the first settlers of Ireland and adjacent lands along the Atlantic corridor."

Dr James Bonsall, Centre of Environmental Research, Innovation and Sustainability (CERIS), Dept of Environmental Scienice at IT Sligo, said the team used "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."

Today, the Irish Sea is perceived as a "large body of water, a sea that separates us from Britain and mainland Europe," he added. 

"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, why and how people lived on a landscape that today is located beneath the waves."

Key outcomes of the research will be to reconstruct and simulate the palaeoenvironments of the Irish Sea, using ancient DNA analysed in the laboratories at the University of Warwick, and palaeoenvironmental data extrated from the sediment cores.

The studies will assit with undrestanding 'first' or 'early' contact and settlement around the coasts of Ireland and Britain, along with lifestyles of the people who lived within these inundated, prehistoric landscapes and which have never been aequately explored by archaeologiests.

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