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Dublin: 14 °C Wednesday 16 April, 2014

The prehistoric Irish arrowhead that went to Canada… and back again

The beautiful arrowhead was found by nine-year-old Kieran Williams during a trip to visit his Irish grandparents in Howth.

WHEN NINE-YEAR-OLD Kieran Williams and his father Matt were on a trip from Canada to Ireland last month to visit relations, they found something surprising.

While out walking in Howth, on a pebble beach just at the beginning of the east pier at Howth Harbour, Kieran found a small, light-coloured stone. It was in the shape of an arrow, but this wasn’t a quirk of nature.

A human hand had scraped away at the stone until it became an arrow-shaped, so it could be used for hunting animals and providing the owner with food.

Image reproduced by kind permission of the National Museum of Ireland

Kieran took the stone back when him when the family returned to Canada, but he didn’t stop thinking of its significance. Isabella Mulhall, assistant keeper in the Irish Antiquities division in the National Museum of Ireland, explained more to TheJournal.ie:

A child emailed me with his father to say they had been out for a walk in Howth, and found this particular arrowhead and were wondering what they should do with it. I wrote back and thanked them very much for contacting us, stating in child’s language what the terms of the National Monument Acts were.

Under the act, anyone who finds an archaeological object shall make a report to a local garda in the district or the keeper of Irish Antiquities in the National Museum that they have found it. Failing to do this could mean a fine.

Any object that does not have an owner at the time of discovery is State property, explained Mulhall. Thankfully, Kieran was happy to return the arrowhead, which arrived in the post at the National Museum earlier this week.

Discovery

“It’s a beautiful piece,” said Mulhall. She has sent Kieran and his father a report of discovery form, which will give more insight into the object. “They have been most helpful.”

It’s no surprise that Kieran brought the stunning arrowhead, which was hidden in stones on the edge of the water, home. But the National Museum staff are glad that he realised that it was something that should have stayed in Ireland.

This isn’t an uncommon occurrence. Last year a person found a similar object and brought it to Switzerland, but again they also contacted the museum. A pewter cup found in Donegal also made its way back to Ireland after a spell abroad.

Mulhall finds that most people are “generally very good” at returning objects, and cooperative when they discover that legally they cannot hold on to their find.  A finder’s reward is given, but for children this usually takes the form of something like a book, rather than money.

Image reproduced by kind permission of the National Museum of Ireland

“It’s good citizenship. We tend to reward them for good citizenship,” said Mulhall. Some objects are more commonly found than others, such as flint, arrowheads and scrapers. This is due to the fact they don’t degrade easily and can survive in water.

At this time of year, when summer peat cutting has begun, the museum anticipates getting calls about items found and preserved in peat, such as bog butter. There is even the hope that a bog body might be uncovered. Every item brings with it a story and each story fills in more of the rich tapestry that makes up Ireland’s ancient history.

Mulhall describes her job as a “very exciting role”, saying she never ceases to be amazed by such finds.

The arrowhead will be given its own unique registration number and put into the National Museum’s reserve collection.

There was a lot of movement during prehistoric times, so the arrowhead could potentially have travelled to a variety of places. It is not yet known where the arrowhead was first carved, though closer examination of the rock source, which will take place shortly, will fill in the gaps.

What is clear, however, is that its return is the chance to experience a taste of barely-imaginable life thousands of years ago.

Read:Billion-year-old water discovered in Canada could give clues to early life on Earth>

Read: 9 places in Ireland you need to visit as soon as possible>

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