Sometime between 4100BC and 3000BC a dramatic, fundamental change in way of life occurred. The highly-mobile foraging hunter-gatherer system was replaced by a sedentary farming process, which, for the first time, would have involved growing crops and tending sheep pigs or cattle.

This new system, often called the Neolithic system, had been established in Europe for well over a century, and would seem to have reached this country by sea from north-western France. A number of these sea-routes were long-established ; domestic animal bones, dated 3900 BC, have been found at Dalkey Island. The pygmy shrew species found in Ireland is also found in France, but not in Britain. This tiny creature may well have been a cargo stowaway from France six thousand years ago.

Rathdown hunter-gatherers would have been influenced by these visitors, some of whom had come to settle. The change to the new Neolithic way of life was rapid and profound :

  • Less reliance on hunter-gatherer foraging.
  • Less dependence on fishing.
  • Land clearance.
  • Sowing of crops, mainly emmer wheat and barley.
  • Tending of domesticated animals, sheep, pigs, cattle.
  • Sedentary existence.
  • “Permanent” timber houses for first time – a sense of “home”.
  • Demarcation of land using wooden or earthen boundaries – sense of “private property” for first time.
  • Grinding and polishing of stone for axes.

Cunliffe, Barry : Britain Begins, Oxford University Press.

Flint convex end scraper from Rathdown. Used to scrape and clean hides for leather working. 2500-2200 BC.
Courtesy of National Museum of Ireland
Flint retouched blade, Rathdown Upper, Co. Wicklow, probably an unfinished end-of-blade scraper. 2500-2200 BC.
Courtesy of National Museum of Ireland
Unglazed ceramic pottery sherd from Rathdown, part of a prehistoric pottery vessel.
Courtesy of National Museum of Ireland
Unglazed ceramic pottery sherd from a hand-built prehistoric vessel. Found at Rathdown.
Courtesy of National Museum of Ireland
10.9kg saddle-quern found at Rathdown by Patrick Neary. This type of quern-stone was used for grinding cereals up to 500BC, when more efficient rotary-querns took over.
Courtesy of Patrick Neary.

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