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The Later Mesolithic: 5500-3500BC

The Mesolithic is divided into two periods because of the marked change in tool-kits that appears around 5500BC. By this time small microlithic tools were completely abandoned and much larger implements were fashioned from long flint flakes, which required the much simpler and faster technique of direct percussion. A nodule of flint could be picked up from the beach and, after a chunk was knocked off to provide a striking platform, the flint knapper could remove a series of flakes in seconds by striking the platform with a hard stone. This type of tool is almost unique to Ireland, so it is difficult to explain why there was such a dramatic change from a sophisticated set of implements to much simpler and cruder tools.

The classic Later Mesolithic tool was the Bann flake, so called because many thousands have been found along the Bann River. This simple leaf-shaped flake resembles a spear head whose butt has been trimmed. They have been discovered throughout Ireland, but are most often discovered along river banks or on the coast, where flint could be found close by. They are actually too thick to have been spearheads, and some archaeologists suspect they were mounted in a wooden handle and served as all purpose hunting and fishing knives. It is possible that what appears to be the same tool type was actually used in many different ways.

Another distinctive tool from this period is axes made from schist or mud stone, made by first flaking the axe into shape and then grinding down the surface against an abrasive stone such as sandstone. Large stone clubs have also been found, particularly along the Bann, the purpose of which is not clear.

Apart from stone tools, we have very little evidence for any other aspect of Later Mesolithic life. The sites discovered are concentrated along the coast or in the flood plains of rivers, but because we have no evidence yet of a base camp like Mountsandel, it seems that people moved around the landscape more frequently than in the Early Mesolithic.

Many of the Later Mesolithic sites are to be found along raised beaches on the Antrim coast, where communities apparently came to work flint. However, these coastal sites do not provide the best evidence for communities since they appear to have been specialist industrial sites that may have been occupied only for a matter of days from one year to the next.

Most inland sites are situated along rivers, the most important of which is Newferry, Co. Antrim. Here Peter Woodman excavated a series of huts situated where Lough Beg disgorges into the River Bann and provided exceptionally good fishing. The site was occupied from about 5500-3500BC and it was possible to trace the development of tools through this time in the different layers of the site.