Farm Ireland
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Friday 19 October 2018

A bronze age farmers altered the environment - study

Under threat: A section of Bronze Age timber trackway in the Mayne Bog, Co Westmeath, which was exposed during a test excavation in May 2015
Under threat: A section of Bronze Age timber trackway in the Mayne Bog, Co Westmeath, which was exposed during a test excavation in May 2015
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

A study on ancient animal bones shows how increased agricultural activity during the Bronze Age in Ireland had a lasting effect on the environment and acts as a roadmap for  examining the current impact of farming on the landscape into the future.

The study, which was conducted by a team of archaeologists from IT Sligo and the University of British Columbia, found that until the Bronze Age people lived with nature, but once farming intensified in the late Bronze Age it had an effect on soil composition.

“Until the Bronze Age humans had little effect on the overall composition of nitrogen in the soil, but at this point in time human activity started to impact on soil nutrients,” said co-author of the report Fiona Beglane of IT Sligo.

“The animals then ate the plants growing in that soil, and we can see that change preserved in the composition of their bones as higher levels of Nitrogen 15 are present in the bones.

“Essentially what we are saying is that until the Bronze Age people in Ireland lived with nature, and from then on they were creating new environments.”

She said the study is also relevant to researchers examining the current impact that agriculture is having on the environment and how this impact is likely to increase in the future.

“This study will be extremely useful for people looking at modern farming and its implications on the landscape. We live in a world of 7.5 billion people,” she said.

“We don’t know the exact population of the world during the Bronze Age. Estimates range from a few hundred thousand to 50 million. There was a lot less people in the world then but it still had an impact so it’s interesting to find out what the current effect agriculture is having on the landscape.”

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For the study the team analysed 719 ancient animal bones on 90 sites across Ireland with cattle, pigs and sheep being the main livestock kept by farmers at this time.

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