Prehistoric Transitions

Prehistoric Transitions

UCC Archaeology has a long tradition of research on different aspects of Irish prehistory. This work extends from landscape survey at Lough Gur, Co. Limerick undertaken in 1910–12 by our first Professor, Sir Bertram Windle, to the work of later professors, Sean P. Ó Riordáin and Michael J. O’Kelly, including the excavation of the world-famous monument at Newgrange. In modern times the research of Professor Peter Woodman provided most of our basic understanding of the Mesolithic in Ireland, while another retired staff member, Dr Elizabeth Shee Twohig, is a leading specialist on passage tomb art.

Current research on prehistory continues the strong fieldwork tradition in the Department, with the emphasis on studying key transition periods in Irish prehistory in a wider European context. This work focuses on the following areas: the adoption of metallurgy, the development of early ceramic traditions, monumentality and changing belief systems, ‘Celticization’ and the beginning and end of the Iron Age.

Research Staff
  • Dr Katharina Becker
    The Iron Age in Ireland and Europe; Celtic art in Europe; chronologies, cultural identities and cultural change in the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age; the archaeology of settlement and ritual in late prehistoric Ireland.
  • Rose Cleary MA
    Irish prehistoric pottery from Neolithic to Late Bronze Age; the Lough Gur landscape.
  • Dr Ben Geary
    Environmental archaeology, palynology and palaeoecology; peatlands and landscape archaeology.
  • Professor William O' Brien
    Early metallurgy and metal-using societies in Ireland and Atlantic Europe; the, Bronze Age and Iron Age in Ireland; prehistoric ritual monuments and religious belief; the prehistory of south-west Ireland.
Current Postgraduate Researchers
Major Research Projects

Settlement and Landscape in Later Prehistoric Ireland – Seeing Beyond the Site
The Heritage Council INSTAR funded research consortium led by UCC aims to contextualise the archaeology of the Late Bronze and Iron Ages within its contemporary prehistoric landscape.
Find out more

The Origins of Metallurgy in Ireland
The wider context of the Chalcolithic/EBA copper mine at Ross Island, Killarney, with reference to external connections and the role of Beaker culture groups in the introduction of metallurgy to Ireland. Ongoing research by Professor O’Brien.

Hillforts, Warfare and Society in Later Prehistoric Ireland
The first major study undertaken on the subject of warfare and the beginnings of the Late Bronze Age in Ireland, with specific reference to the position of hillforts. Directed by Professor O’Brien, with funding from the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences.

The Iverni Project
An investigation of the Late Bronze Age/Iron Age transition in south-west Ireland. Directed by Professor O’Brien, with funding from the Royal Irish Academy and the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences.

The Garranes Project
A study of the Iron Age/early medieval transition in south-west Ireland, focusing on the early medieval tribal centre at Garranes, Co. Cork, combining the results of new excavation work with landscape analysis. Directed by Professor O’Brien, with funding from University College Cork.

The Prehistory of Lough Gur
A study of Grange stone circle and its landscape context; a reappraisal of prehistoric pottery traditions at Lough Gur. Directed by Rose Cleary with funding from The Heritage Council and Royal Irish Academy. 

Recent Publications (2008-present)


  • R. Cleary and H. Kelleher 2011. Archaeological Excavations at Tullahedy, Co. Tipperary. Neolithic Settlement in North Munster. Cork.
  • H. P. Chapman and B. R. Gearey 2013. Modelling Archaeo-Environments in Wetlands: The Hidden Landscape Archaeology of Hatfield and Thorne Moors. Oxbow, Oxford.
  • W. O’Brien 2009. Local Worlds: Early Settlement Landscapes and Upland Farming in South-west Ireland. Cork.
  • W.O’Brien 2012. Iverni: a Prehistory of Cork. Cork.
  • W.O’Brien 2015. Prehistoric Copper Mining in Europe. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Research Reports

Refereed Articles (journals, books and conference proceedings)


  • Armit, I.; Swindles, G.T.; Becker, K.; Plunkett, G.; Blaauw, M. 2014. Rapid climate change did not cause population collapse at the end of the European Bronze Age. PNAS 2014 111 (48) 17045-17049; published ahead of print November 17, 2014, doi:10.1073/pnas.1408028111.


  • Swindles, G.T.; Lawson, I.T.; Matthews, I.P.; Blaauw, M.; Daley, T.J; Charman, D.J.; Roland, T.P.; Plunkett, G.; Schettler, G.; Gearey, B.R.; Turner, E.; Rea, H.A.; Roe, H.M.; Amesbury, M.J.; Chambers, F.M.; Holmes, J; Mitchell, F.J.G.; Blackford, J.; Blundell, A.; Branch, N.; Holmes, J.; Langdon, P. ; McCarroll, J.; McDermott, F.; Oksane, P.O.; Pritchard, O.; Stastney, P.; Stefanini, B.; Young, D.; Wheeler, J.;  Becker, K.; Armit, I. 2013. Centennial-scale climate change in Ireland during the Holocene. Earth science review 126, 300-320.
  • Becker, K. 2013. Transforming identities – New approaches to Bronze Age deposition in Ireland. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 79, 2013, 1–39.
  • Becker, K. 2013. The dating of Late Bronze Age Dowris metalwork – a pilot study. Journal of Irish Archaeology XXI, 7-15.
  • Becker, K.2013. Iron Age Tara in context. In: M. O’Sullivan, C. Scarre and M. Doyle (eds) Tara—from the past to the future. Towards a new research agenda. Wordwell books, Bray, 267 - 275.
  • Armit, I., Swindles, G. and Becker, K. 2013 From dates to demography in later prehistoric Ireland? Experimental approaches to the meta-analysis of large 14 C data-sets. Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (1), 433-438. (doi: 10.1016/j.jas.2012.08.039)
  • Cleary, R. M. and Hawkes, A. 2013. ‘The excavation of four fulachtaí fia and Iron Age pits at Ballyadam, Carrigtohill, Co. Cork’. Journal Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 118 :1-38.
  • Swindles, G.T., Lawson, I.T., Matthews, I.P., Blaauw, M., Daley, T.J., Charman, D.J., Roland, T.P., Plunkett, G., Schettler, G., Gearey, B.R., Turner, T.E., Rea, H.A., Roe, H.M., Amesbury, M.J., Chambers, F.M., Holmes, J., Mitchell, F.J.G., Blackford, J., Blundell, A., Branch, N., Holmes, J., Langdon, P., McCarroll, J., McDermott, F., Oksanen, P.O., Pritchard, O., Stastney, O., Stefanini, B., Young, D., Wheeler, J., Becker, K., Armit, I. 2013. Centennial-scale climate change in Ireland during the Holocene. Earth Science Reviews.
  • M. Kincey, L. Batty, H. Chapman, B.R. Gearey, S. Ainsworth and K. Challis. 2013. Assessing the changing condition of industrial archaeological remains on Alston Moor, UK, using multi-sensor remote sensing. Journal of Archaeological Science. 45, 36–51.
  • Chapman, H.  & B. Gearey 2013. Iconoclasm in European prehistory? Breaking objects and landscapes. In S. Boldrick, L. Brubaker and R. Clay (eds) Striking Images, Iconoclasms past, present and future. USA: Ashgate.
  • W.O’Brien 2013. Bronze Age copper mining in Europe. In Harding, A. and Fokkens, H. (eds) Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age. Oxford University Press.
  • O’Brien, W. 2013. Copper mining in later Bronze Age Ireland . In: Anreiter, Peter et al. (eds). Mining in European History, Proceedings of the 2012 HIMAT conference, University of Innsbruck.


  • Becker, K., Armit, I., Eogan, J. and Swindles, G. 2011 (2012). Later prehistoric radiocarbon dates from Ireland: an audit. Journal of Irish Archaeology. XX 19–26.
  • Becker, K. 2012. The introduction of iron working to Ireland. In: Kern, A. and Koch, J. (eds) Technologieentwicklung und – transfer in der Eisenzeit. Tagungsbericht der AG Eisenzeit, Hallstatt 2009. Beiträge zur Ur-und Frühgeschichte Mitteleuropas, 173-180. Langenweissenbach.
  • Becker, K.  2012  Redefining the Irish Iron Age: In: Potterton, M. and Corlett C. (eds) Life and death in Iron Age Ireland. Wordwell books, Bray, 1-14.
  • Becker, K. 2012. The parallel La Tène. Kunst der vorrömischen Eisenzeit in Irland. In: Archäologisches Landesmuseum Baden-Württemberg / Landesmuseum Württemberg / Landesamt für Denkmalpflege im Regierungs-präsidium Stuttgart (eds), Die Welt der Kelten. Zentren der Macht - Kostbarkeiten der Kunst. Ausstellungskatalog Stuttgart. Jan Thorbecke Verlag, Ostfildern 2012, 501-507.
  • Cleary, R.M.2012. ‘The Western Stone Forts Project Excavations at Dun Aonghusa and Dun Eoghanachta Vol. 2 A Discovery Programme Monograph’ In: Pottery. Dublin: Wordwell.  8–26.
  • Cleary, R.M. 2012 ‘Analysis of fabric used in the production of the clay moulds and crucibles’ In: The Western Stone Forts Project Excavations at Dun Aonghusa and Dun Eoghanachta. Dublin: Wordwell. , 45–46
  • E. J. Hopla and B. R. Gearey 2012. Mesolithic-Neolithic anthropogenic impacts on the upland environment of Bodmin Moor, south-west England: a re-investigation of the pollen record from Rough Tor south. Cornish Archaeology, 49, 253-264.
  • Bakker, Marcel and Meekes, Sjef and Heteren van, Sytze and Maljers, Denise and Paap, Bob and Fitch, Simon and Gaffney, Vincent and Gearey, B. 2012. Towards a three-dimensional geological model of the North Sea subsurface. In: NCK-days 2012: Crossing borders in coastal research., 13 March 2012 – 16 March 2012, Enschede, the Netherlands.
  • W.O’Brien 2012. Stone circle or proto-Cashel? An Iron Age enclosure in south-west Ireland. In Potterton, M. and Corlett, C. (eds) Ireland in the Iron Age. Wordwell, Dublin.
  • W. O’Brien and N. Hogan 2012. Derrycarhoon: a Bronze Age copper mine in west Cork. Archaeology Ireland 26 (1), 12-15.
  • W. O’Brien 2012. The Chalcolithic in Ireland: a chronological and cultural framework. In Michael J. Allen, Julie Gardiner, Alison Sheridan and David McOmish (eds) The British Chalcolithic: Place and Polity in the Later 3rd Millennium BC (eds). Prehistoric Society, London, 211-225.
  • W. O’Brien 2012. Aspects of fulacht fiadh function and chronology in Cork. Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society 117, 107-133.
  • A. Hawkes 2012. Medieval fulachtai fia in Ireland: an archaeological assessment. The Journal of Irish Archaeology 20,
  • R. Pinhasi et al. 2012. The genetic history of Europeans. Trends in Genetics 26, 495-505.
  • R. Pinhasi et al. 2012. Musings on early farming communities in north-west Anatoli and other flights of fancy. Interdisciplinaria Archaeologica 3, (1), 11-223.
  • R. Pinhasi et al. 2012. A craniometric perspective on the transition to agriculture in Europe. Human Biology 84, 45-66.


  • Becker, K. 2011. The Irish Iron Age: Continuity, change and identity. In: Moore, T. and Armada, X. (eds). Atlantic Europe in the First Millennium BC. Oxford University Press, Oxford. 449-467.
  • B. R. Gearey, S. Fletcher, W. Fletcher, & S.C. Campbell 2011. From site to landscape: assessing the value of geoarchaeological data for understanding the archaeological record of Domuztepe, south-east Turkey. The American Journal of Archaeology, 115, 465-482.
  • K. Krawiec, B. R. Gearey, H. P. Chapman, M. Bamforth, E. Hopla & C. Griffiths 2011. Triple post alignments in the Waveney Valley, Suffolk: Excavations at Barsham Marshes. Journal of Wetland Archaeology, 10, 46-71.
  • B. R. Gearey, M. Bamforth, H. Chapman, W. Fletcher, T. Hill, A. Howard, K. Krawiec, P. Marshall, I. Tyers & E. Tetlow 2011. The Beccles Triple Post Alignment, Beccles Marshes, Suffolk: Excavation and Palaeoenvironmental Analyses of an Iron Age Wetland Site. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 77, 231- 250.
  • R. Pinhasi et al. 2011, Craniometric data supports a mosaic model of demic and cultural Neolithic diffusion to outlying regions of Europe. Proceedings of the Royal Society B278, 2874-80.
  • W. O’Brien 2011. Prehistoric copper mining and metallurgical expertise in Ireland. In Carla Maria Baz Martins, Ana Betencourt, Jose Inacio Martins and Jorge Carvalho (eds) Povoamento e Exploracao dos Recursos Mineiros, Braga, 337-357.


  • Becker, K. 2010. Iron Age Ireland. Finding an invisible people. In: Cooney, G., Becker, K., Coles, J., Ryan, M. and Sievers, S. (eds). Relics of old decency. Archaeological studies in later prehistory. Festschrift for Barry Raftery. Wordwell Books, Bray. 353-362.
  • Cleary, R,M. 2010. ‘The Pottery’ In: R. Cleary (eds). Of Troughs and Tuyeres. Dublin: National Roads Authority. Appendix A.
  • I. Boomer & B. R. Gearey 2010. The occurrence of a new species of Gomphocythere (Ostracoda, Limnoctheridae) in the Holocene of south-east Turkey: the northernmost record for the genus. Journal of Micropalaeontology, 29, 115-118.
  • M. Lobb, K. Krawiec, A. Howard, B. R. Gearey & H. Chapman 2010. A new approach to recording and monitoring wet-preserved archaeological wood using three dimensional laser scanning. Journal of Archaeological Science, 37, 2995-2999.
  • J. G. T. Wheeler, G. T. Swindles & B. R. Gearey 2010. Finding Bosworth Battlefield: A multi-proxy palaeoenvironmental investigation of lowland sediments from Dadlington, Leicestershire, England. Journal of Archaeological Science, 37, 1579-1589.
  • W. O’Brien 2010. Knockatreenane and the prehistoric barrows of Cork. Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society 115, 31–62.
  • W.O’Brien 2010. Copper Axes, Stone Axes: Production and Exchange Systems in the Chalcolithic of Britain and Ireland. In Prast, M. (ed,) Mining in European History. HIMAT project, University of Innsbruck, 255-60.


  • Becker, K. 2009. Medieval metal artefacts. In: M. McQuade, B. Molloy and C. Moriarty (eds). In the shadows of the Galtees. Archaeological excavations along the N8 Cashel to Mitchelstown Road Scheme. National Roads Authority Monographs 4, National Roads Authority, Dublin. 343-344.
  • Becker, K. 2009. Metal working moulds In: M. McQuade, B. Molloy and C. Moriarty (eds). In the shadows of the Galtees. Archaeological excavations along the N8 Cashel to Mitchelstown Road Scheme. National Roads Authority Monographs 4, National Roads Authority, Dublin. 336-387.
  • Becker, K. 2009. But I still haven't found what I am looking for: New Agendas in Irish Iron Age research. In: Karl, R. and Leskovar, J. (eds) Interpretierte Eisenzeiten. Fallstudien, Methoden, Theorie. Tagungsbeiträge der 3. Linzer Gespräche zur interpretativen Eisenzeitarchäologie. 163-176.
  • A. Howard, B. R. Gearey, W. Fletcher, T. Hill & P. Marshall 2009. Fluvial sediments, correlations and palaeoenvironmental reconstruction: the development of robust radiocarbon chronologies. Journal of Archaeological Science, 36, 2680-2688.
  • B. R. Gearey, P. Marshall & D. Hamilton 2009. Correlating Archaeological and Palaeoenvironmental Records using a Bayesian Approach: A Case Study from Sutton Common, South Yorkshire, England. Journal of Archaeological Science, 36, 1477-1487.
  • W. O’Brien 2009. Hidden Celtic Ireland: indigenous Iron Age settlement in the southwestern peninsulas. In Cooney, G. et al. (eds) Relics of Old Decency. Archaeological Studies in Later Prehistory. Wordwell, Dublin, 437–448.
  • R. Pinhasi and von Cramon-Taubadel, N. 2009. Craniometric data supports demic diffusion model for the spread of agriculture into Eurpe. PloS ONE 26.
  • R. Pinhasi et al. 2009. First DNA sequences from Asian cave bear fossils reveal deep divergences and complex phylogeographic patterns. Molecular Ecology 18 (6), 1225-1138.


  • Becker, K. 2008. Iron Age ring-headed pins in Ireland and Britain and on the Continent. Archäologisches Korrespondenzblatt 38. 4, 513-520.
  • Cleary, R.M.2008. ‘The pottery from Site A’. The Ballyhoura Hills Project.2008. 259-314. Discovery Programme Monograph 7. Dublin
  • B. R. Gearey2008. Late-glacial vegetation change in East Yorkshire: A radiocarbon dated pollen diagram from Routh Quarry, Beverley. Proceedings of the Yorkshire Geological Society, 57, 2, 45-54.
Recently completed postgraduate research
  • James Lineen (MPhil): Spearheads of the Irish Bronze Age (2016)
  • James O'Driscoll (PhD): The Prehsitoric Hillforts of Co. Wicklow (2016)
  • Robert Dolan (MPhil): The ring-barrows monuments of Co. Limerick (2016)
  • Ciaran Brewster (PhD): A craniometric study of population dynamics and social organisation in the European Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic (2014)
  • Alan Hawkes (PhD): Fulachtaí Fia in prehistoric Ireland (2014)
  • Sean Sharpe (MPhil): An analysis of the lithic assemblage from Slieve Breagh, Co. Wicklow (2014)
  • Alex Brea (MPhil): Atlantic connections in the Bronze Age: Ireland and Spain (2014)
  • Shaun Aherne (MPhil): Later prehistoric ring ditches in Ireland (2012)
  • Carol Dempsey (MPhil): Neolithic stone axe sources, production and exchange in the Lough Gur area (2012)
  • Ella Motherway (MPhil): LiDAR and its potential as a tool for archaeological prospection in Ireland (2012)
  • Elaine Lynch (MPhil): Grooved Ware in prehistoric Ireland (2011)
Research student publications (2008–present)
  • Brewster, C., Meiklejohn, C., Cramon-Taubadel, von, N., and Pinhasi, R. (2014). Craniometric analysis of European Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic samples supports discontinuity at the Last Glacial Maximum. Nature Communications 5, 1–10.
  • Brewster, C., Meiklejohn, C., Pinhasi, R., in press. An assessment of cranial variation across subdivisions of the Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic. Proceedings from Where the Wild Things Are Conference, Durham (March, 2012). 
  • Brewster, C., in press. Craniometric data support continent-wide gene flow between late Pleistocene and early Holocene populations. Proceedings from the 8th International Conference on the Mesolithic in Europe, Santander, Spain (14 September, 2010).
  • Cabo, L.L., Brewster, C., Luengo Azpiazu, J. (2012). Sexual Dimorphism: Interpreting Sex Markers. In: A Companion to Forensic Anthropology, Dirkmaat, D.C. (Ed.), Malden, MA, Wiley-Blackwell
  • Brewster, C. (2010). An assessment of cranial variation in the European Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic using geometric morphometrics. Proceedings of the 4th Meeting of Junior Scientists in Anthropology, Freiburg, Germany, 75–83.
  • Dempsey, C. 2013, An analysis of stone axe petrography and production at Lough Gur, Co. Limerick. The Journal of Irish Archaeology 22, 23–50
  • Hawkes, A. 2014. The beginnings and evolution of the fulacht fia tradition in early prehistoric Ireland. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 114C, 89−139.
  • Hawkes, A. 2012. Medieval fulachtaí fia in Ireland? An archaeological assessment. The Journal of Irish Archaeology 20, 77−100.
  • Hawkes, A and O’Driscoll, J. 2011-12. A fulacht fiadh reconstruction at Rathbarry, Co. Cork. The Ardfield/Rathabarry Journal  6,  96−99.
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