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Ireland in the Bronze Age: Life, Houses & Facts

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the Bronze Age of Ireland. We'll discuss how bronze was introduced to the Neolithic people, what this technology changed, and the impact on the lives and cultures of the people during this time.

Ireland Before the Celts

When most people think of Irish history and culture, they think of the Celts, a people who came from Europe to usher in the Iron Age in Ireland, but who came before them? What was Ireland like just prior to the Celts' arrival? In essence, what was the Bronze Age of Ireland like, who is responsible for introducing bronze, and how did that impact the lives of the Irish at the time as they transitioned from stone tools to metal? Let's find out!

Metal

Around 2500 BCE, which was about 4,500 years ago, a new group of people migrated to Ireland from mainland Europe. They were named the Bell-beaker culture, known as the Beakers for short, because of the unique shape of their pottery. The Beakers introduced a revolutionary new technology to the Neolithic people already living there. They quickly taught the local people how to make bronze, an alloy metal made from copper and tin. While the Neolithic inhabitants of Ireland already had farming and knew how to raise livestock, the bronze tools allowed them to farm more efficiently.

Beaker pottery
Beaker pottery

Farming

The average person in Bronze Age Ireland lived as a farmer in a small village comprised of only a few families. The introduction of bronze allowed them to clear larger areas of land, chopping trees with bronze axes, much stronger than any copper axes and less likely to break than any stone axes. Thanks to bronze, farmers could use oxen to pull large plows and expand their fields. Prior to bronze, most farmers broke up the soil with handheld stone hoes. They also used the bronze to make harvesting tools like the sickle, a curved blade used to cut grain stalks. Making sickles from bronze instead of stone or bone allowed for a sharper edge and faster harvesting. The larger fields and easier harvesting allowed people to grow a surplus of crops and engage in trade with other communities.

Bronze axe heads
bronze axe heads

Houses

The average farmer in the Bronze Age of Ireland lived in houses made of mud and sticks. This style, known as wattle and daub, weaves sticks around posts like you might see in a wicker basket. Then, they fill in the space between the sticks with mud and clay, creating a stucco-like finish. The roof of the house was thatched, made by layering plant stalks or grasses and tying them down to make a waterproof finish. Because the house was round, the roof was conical. Some of these houses had a hole at the peak of the roof to allow smoke from the cooking fire to escape, while others layered the thatch in a way to allow smoke to escape without letting water in.

Wattle and daub house with a thatched roof
Bronze Age house

Inside the houses, many family members would live in a single room used for sleeping, eating, meal preparation, and socialization. The hearth, a fireplace or fire pit, in the center of the house operated as a focal point for activity. Rather than just setting pots of water over the fire or roasting meat on a spit, the Bronze Age Irish would heat stones to a high temperature in the fire, then toss the stones into a pot of water to boil the meat. Not only would people cook their meals on the fire, but they would sit around it while they ate or just to keep warm while talking.

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