Tuesday 18 January 2022

The Forgotten Science on Peat Bog Formation

 I recently received a gift of a new book by Francis Pryor called "Scenes from Prehistoric life". I have not read it completely and most of the book seems to relate to Britain. I came across an interesting bit about how bogs were formed which didn't seem right to me. Pryor writes that prehistoric sites occur relatively high in bogs because when the bogs formed in Britain and Ireland around 12,000 years ago, Britain still had not been re-inhabited following the end of the last Ice Age. It was only when farming began in the 5th millenium BC that the evidence for settlement increases rapidly.

"These later remains tend to be found in the higher layers of peat which were the first to be removed during the process of extraction."

I thought this section of the book a bit strange because in Ireland there have been many artifacts found very deep in bogs e.g. - -

A todh or breastplate found 12 feet down in a bog in Limerick :


 - A celt stone implement found at  a depth of 15 feet in a bog in Derry

 -  Pottery found at a great depth in a sligo bog  

 - An ancient wooden candlestick found at a depth of 16 feet deep in a Kerry bog

 A leather shoe found 20 feet deep in a bog in Tipperary  

Then there is this remarkable bog find of an ancient house in the early part of the 18th century -  from William Wilde's 1857 book on ancient artifacts (yes, that is Oscar's father). It was reckoned that the house was found 26 feet deep in the bog :

Which is corroborated here :

This agrees with the statement of Killpatrick, who asserts that he has taken twelve turf deep above the top of the house, and as every turf is about one foot long, it would give sixteen feet for the thickness on the top of the roof of the house.


More recently, H.H. Lamb in his book "Climate, History and the Modern World (1995), gives a completely different account to Pryor. In England and Wales, evidence of man's activities was found in the earliest layers of peat formation :

So one has to wonder, did now deceased archaeologists find most of the deeper bog artifacts decades and centuries ago and have modern archaeologists simply forgotten about them ? 

I raise this point here because it shows that science today sometimes forges it's own path without having regard to the knowledge gained before. While Pryor may be writing from experience, it should be pointed out that his conclusions differ from those experts gone before him and if they are correct then it proves that man has been altering the environment around him for many thousands of years. And most remarkably, even before the formation of peat bogs. 


  1. Unless I have failed to understand what 'higher levels of peat...' mean, then surely we have the best evidence of relative timing at Ceide Fields in Mayo. Here the old wall system is buried under the complete peat profile of the area, therefore pre-dating peat growth. It raises the additional question of the timing of, and dating of, peat bog growth in Ireland, in view of Pryor's statements.

    1. Excellent point. I visited Ceide Fields last year and this is a great example where man altered the landscape by raising cattle on land with poor soil quality. Man's activities created the bog that now covers the stone walls.

  2. "Reading the Irish Landscape" by Frank Mitchell and Michael Ryan has some excellent explanations on this and other interesting landscape anomalies , like raised beaches and climate related graphs (pre global warming hysteria)