In the last interglacial period, i.e. between the last and second last Ice Ages the area of Co. Waterford had a climate which was suitable for the survival of Paleolithic people who depended solely on food gathering, but as yet no hard evidence has emerged that man did in fact occupy the area. Elsewhere on the European mainland evidence of men lived solely by hunting and fishing and gathering wild fruits, nuts, and berries is plentiful.
As the environment was Arctic in nature, the land supported such animals as the great Irish deer with its huge antlers, mammoth, bears, foxes, etc.. Remains of these animals were discovered at Shandon Caves to the north of Dungarvan town in 1859. The limestone valley between Dungarvan and Cappoquin had a series of caves such as those at Shandon, Kilgreany and Ballinamintra which were an immediate source of shelter from the elements.
Due to changes in the surface of Ireland, early shoreline deposits are from more easily in the north of the country revealing evidence of Mesolithic man. It was thought because the earlier shoreline had been buried beneath the sea in the southern coast of Ireland that no evidence of Mesolithic man had survived. Flint being the best raw material for stone tools and being widely available in northern Ireland, it was felt that the Mesolithic people would not be encouraged to set up settlements in southern Ireland where flint is scarce.
Most of the archaeological material from this period has been found in northern Ireland. However, in recent years evidence of Mesolithic man is being discovered in the Munster area. Recent investigations in the Blackwater valley and the Waterford harbour areas have uncovered numerous finds of flint flakes which indicates the presence of Mesolicthic man in the area.
This period is often referred to as the Neolithic Revolution. The revolutionary change in man's lifestyle was the transition from a hunting/ food gathering economic system of the Paleolithic/Mesolithic cultures to the food producing economy of the Neolithic period.
While this new system began as early as 8,000b.c. in south west Asia it did not begin in Ireland until 3,500b.c.. After coming across Europe they settled first in the northern part of Ireland possibly arriving in boats much like the currach, about 30ft in length. The earliest archaeological record of them was found at Co. Tyrone dating to 5,700 years ago. They were the first real agriculturalists, with a knowledge of animal husbandry, crop tillage and ring barking of trees. They fed their animals on leaves stripped from trees, then ring barked the trees which killed the leave canopy, thereby letting sunlight on to their crops. The minerals in the soil of each small plot were soon exhausted so the Neolithic farmers moved on and carried out the same process all over again. They had sophisticated religions and considerable organisational skill. This is evident in the megalithic tombs they constructed (Newgrange etc.) They set about clearing the forest areas to plant their crops of wild.
Author: Willie Fraher