Mesolithic Fish Trap
People have always responded to the environment they find themselves in, adapting and learning how to survive in it.
Archaeological artefacts, like this fishing trap, show us the intelligence and ingenuity of people who endured their harsh surroundings.
In 2004, an archaeological site was discovered arising from road building at Clowanstown, Co Meath. During the excavation led by archaeologist Matthew Mossop, who was working for Archaeological Consultancy Services Ltd, the team discovered a mooring or fishing site. Four baskets and multiple smaller fragments were found there, and this is the most complete.
The fish traps were all used by the earliest settlers in Ireland, people who lived here thousands of years ago. Radiocarbon dating has given us information about when they were created, narrowing the date for the Clowanstown traps to between 5210-4970 BC. During this time, called the Mesolithic period, people hunted and gathered to obtain food and survive in a heavily-wooded landscape very different to the one we inhabit today. They would have used every resource they could to create and find shelter - and to find, trap and gather food to live. They used their knowledge of fish to design the trap, knowledge of wood to choose and cut the raw material for weaving, and their basketry skills when completing the job. An analysis of the wood in the original, carried out by Susan Lyons of Headland Archaeology, reported that it was made of locally-sourced alder, birch and rosaceae.
The trap is 990mm long and 510mm wide and was originally conical or funnel-shaped, but it has been quite flattened by the weight of earth and bog that built up over thousands of years. The fragility of this artefact meant the extraction and conservation ahead of mounting it for display in the museum was complex - and it took three years to complete. Due to the trap’s intriguing history, the museum commissioned master basket-maker Joe Hogan to re-create a model of how it might have looked. The model is now used as part of the handling collection for many museum events.
Today, the preserved original fish trap is on permanent display in the Prehistoric Ireland exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology. Many different skills and knowledge - ancient and modern - of the creator, archaeologist, conservator and basket-maker are represented by these traps.
Patience is the common thread.