Extinct in Ireland, September 29th, the Lynx

So far in my Extinct in Ireland blog series I have generally avoided the extinctions of prehistory. Of course prehistory does not mean pre-human.

From Whittled Away there is a brief mention in the table of extinct Irish animals:

8,875 years bp [before present] – a femur from Kilgreany cave in Co. Waterford

In the main text there a more discursive passage on the lynx, which the above evidence would indicate was likely the first mammal made extinct by humans in Ireland. this Michael Viney column from the Irish Times gives some context, as well as pointing out the possibility this femur was from an imported carcass:

The great inventory of fossil bones unearthed in Irish caves summons up the ancient mammal history of the island. Exploring the rubble of limestone caves in Co Clare by lanternlight just over a century ago, for example, the naturalist Richard Ussher sent 70,000 bones to the National Museum of Ireland. Among them were reindeer, wolf, bear, mammoth, giant deer, arctic lemmings and foxes, and the spotted hyena, whose ancestors had roamed up from Africa.

Sorting the age and historical sequence of these and many other cave bones had to wait for the Irish Quaternary Fauna Project of the 1990s, led by Prof Peter Woodman of University College Cork. Among the bones was a single femur of a lynx, from Kilgreany Cave, in Co Waterford, that lived about 9,000 years ago. This was when the first hunter-gatherers arrived in an Ireland that then held bears, wolves and wild boar, all later hunted to extinction.

The long-legged, tufty-eared, elusive Eurasian lynx, a solitary feline carnivore, had arrived in Britain postglacially, along with roe deer as its principal prey. The last one disappeared from the UK about 700 AD. Did the lynx make its own way to Ireland or did a dried leg of meat arrive with a Mesolithic voyager? Either way, there’s little further mention of the cat in the history of Irish mammals.

Now that it has joined the beaver in “rewilding” initiatives in Britain, there are, inevitably, voices to wonder if bringing the predatory lynx to Ireland might help control this island’s proliferating deer. The broadcaster Joe Duffy suggested it on RTÉ, in talking to a Wicklow farmer whose pastures are invaded at first light by “50 or 60” Sika deer from the forest. The farmer seemed persuaded to learn that Germany, like many other countries in Europe where scarce native lynx are conserved, offers compensation for any random farm livestock they happen to kill. Duffy was, perhaps, unaware of a recent Norwegian finding that where lynx start running out of roe deer their predation on free-roaming sheep has risen sharply, the males, in particular, going in for “disproportionate” multiple killing. This was offered as relevant to the fixing of compensation.

More information on Kilgreaney Cave is available at the Prehistoric Waterford page:

Though not a monument as such, Kilgreany Cave near Cappagh in West Waterford is certainly worth mentioning here.

This important limestone cave was the site of two excavations, the first of which was carried out by EK. Tratman in the summer of 1928 and five years later in 1934 by H.L.Movius and the Harvard Archaeological Expedition.

What the archaeologists were in search of was evidence of the earliest humanity in Ireland from the Paleolithic period.

The south of Ireland was free of ice during the last glaciation and this was the reason why Kilgreany was chosen. However, what the archaeologists found was evidence of occupation from the later Neolithic and Bronze Age periods. This included two skeleton remains found both showing signs of injury and trauma and also bones of animals which would have been alive in this area during the Ice Age. Also found were pottery fragments from later periods.

More than twenty years after these discoveries the Kilgreany human skeletons were submitted for dating to the British Museum. One skeleton was dated to 2630 + 150 B.C. – the Neolithic period, while the other was thought to be older than 9,000 B.C. suggesting that it could possibly date from the Stone Age. Along with the two skeletons found, the remains of twelve other individuals were discovered as well as early Christian artifacts, suggesting that the cave was used as burial place during the Bronze Age and a possible place of ritual for more than 6,000 years.

The remains of animal bones found included ox, sheep, goat, pig, horse, dog, wild boar, red deer, hare, rabbit, badger, otter, fox, wolf, wild cat marten, stoat, field mouse, bat, and hedgehog. Bear, lynx and artic lemming were also found as well as turkey, duck, song thrush, fieldfare, blackbird, redwing, pigeon, heron, crane, peregrine, falcon and the snowy owl. The excavations also gave an insight as to what type of trees featured in the surrounding landscape. Species included alder, hawthorn, plum, sloe, cherry, hazel, English ash, apple, pear, rowan, guelder, beam, oak, yew and holly.

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