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It ought to be pointed out here, however, that the Belfast laboratory has shown that radiocarbon dates falling between 800 and 400 bc can no longer be relied upon, as they cannot be distinguished from one another, and that they ought to be abandoned therefore.
The early Irish Christians were consumed by a curiosity to find out about what happened in their country before the dawn of history and so, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, an effort was made in the so-called to reconstruct the relative succession of the series of peoples who were considered to have invaded the country in prehistoric times.
The Iron Age in Ireland has much to offer the historian of Celtic art, and the great fort of Dun Aenghus on the Aran Islands must surely be regarded as one of the most magnificent barbaric monuments to be found anywhere in Western Europe.
It is the archaeology of Ireland's prehistoric period, up to the coming of Christianity, which forms the subject of this book.
Prehistory is not just what prehistoric people made of it, but also what archaeologists have made of it today, and this is the reason why the text of this book makes a point of naming the archaeologists who have made the significant contributions. Binchy, the well-known Celtic scholar, spoke of 'the imaginative and conflicting speculations of archaeologists, and devotees of that curious science which calls itself prehistory'.
The great passage-tomb of Newgrange, dating to the fourth millennium BC, has become internationally famous since the discovery of its orientation towards the rising sun at the winter solstice, and excavations at the neighbouring tomb of Knowth have given unprecedented insight into the wealth of Irish megalithic art.
The rich gold jewellery, unequalled in Western Europe, makes one feel that the country's Bronze Age is a misnomer, and that it should be called its Golden Age.
Or, perhaps better, the first of its Golden Ages - the second one being dealt with in Maire and Liam de Paor's , which may be regarded as the sequel to this volume in the Ancient Peoples and Places series.
The glory of gold and bronze from Ireland's more recent prehistoric past, with its technical brilliance and intricate designs, continues to cause wonderment to the present day.
During the Iron Age the Irish Celts produced some of the finest works of craftsmanship in the whole corpus of Celtic art.