Celtic Voyager explores lost landscapes of Irish Sea

'RV Celtic Voyager' (Photo: David Branigan)

As part of the 'Lost Frontiers' project, a research team from Ireland's Institute of Technology Sligo and University College Cork recently explored extensive submerged landscapes of the Irish Sea aboard the Marine Institute's 'RV Celtic Voyager'.

As part of the 'Lost Frontiers' project, a research team from Ireland's Institute of Technology Sligo and University College Cork recently explored extensive submerged landscapes of the Irish Sea aboard the Marine Institute's RV Celtic Voyager.

Funded by a European Research Council grant and based at the University of Bradford, Lost Frontiers seeks to understand the transition from hunter-gathering to farming in North West Europe. It is studying evidence for inundated palaeolandscapes around the British coastline using seismic reflectance data sets to generate accurate topographical maps of lost lands.

Today the Irish Sea is a large body of water separating Ireland from Britain and mainland Europe, but 18,000 years ago Ireland, Britain and Europe were part of a single landmass. Following the last Ice Age, large areas of habitable land were inundated by climate change. The sea level rose approximately 120m and an area more than twice that of the current USA was lost to the ocean. Beneath the Irish Sea is a prehistoric palaeolandscape of plains, hills, marshlands and river valleys, similar to Doggerland in the southern North Sea, in which evidence of early human activity in Ireland, and along the Atlantic corridor, is almost certainly preserved.

In February, researchers aboard Celtic Voyager took around 60 sediment cores from 20 sites in Liverpool and Cardigan Bays. Key outcomes of this work will be to reconstruct and simulate the palaeoenvironments of the Irish Sea, using ancient DNA analysed in the laboratories at the University of Warwick and palaeoenvironmental data extracted from the sediment cores. This will provide an understanding of early contact and settlement around the coasts of Britain and Ireland and the lifestyles of the people who lived within these previously unexplored, inundated, prehistoric landscapes.

The survey was supported by the Marine Institute, and funded by the Irish Government, under the Marine Research Programme 2014-20. Technical expertise was provided by INFOMAR's specialist bathymetric and geophysical survey team.

By Helen Atkinson

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