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But despite the strength of oral tradition in Ireland, the work of the synthesizing historians who composed the Book need not be taken too literally, for the events they purported to describe are alleged to have taken place 1,000 years or more before they were written down.

Furthermore, it was contemporary political reasons which led diligent chroniclers to compile genealogies for ruling families in order to trace their noble ancestry back as far as possible - even to the extent of tracing the line back to Adam and Eve!

Professor Binchy may not have been too far wrong when he called archaeology a 'curious science', yet it certainly is one which becomes not only more interesting, but also more exact, with every passing day.

This can be instanced by the revolution caused by the discovery of the radiocarbon dating method, and its even more recent and precise counterpart, dendrochronology, or the science of tree-ring dating.

But work both in America and Europe on the number of annual rings contained in tree-trunks which have also been radiocarbon dated, has shown that radiocarbon years do not correspond to actual calendar years, the radiocarbon years often being hundreds of years too young.

In order to distinguish radiocarbon years from the actual calendar years before or after the birth of Christ (given in capitals as bc or ad), the radiocarbon dates quoted here are followed by the same two letters, but printed in lower case, thus - bc or ad.

As an example, one may quote the case of the great passage-tomb at Newgrange which provided a radiocarbon date of c.2500 bc, but which is likely to have been built about 600 years earlier, around 3100 BC.

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The latest thinking on the astronomical significance of megalithic tombs and the social implications of the great Bronze Age hoards is interwoven with an up-to-date account of the recent major excavations at sites such as Carrowmore, Rathgall and Navan Fort.But, for all their efforts, we can place no reliance on any documentary evidence which tells of happenings or people earlier than the fifth century AD, and it is, therefore, left to the interpretation of the archaeological record to tease out the story of Ireland before St Patrick's christianizing mission.It is doubtless more than a mere coincidence that it is from the time of the synthesizing historians that we have what may be described as the first Irish archaeological report, in the form of an entry in the old Irish , telling of the finding of an outsize axe and spearhead in the river Galway in the year 1191.In it, an attempt will be made to summarize the present state of research, taking into account the most recent findings and discoveries.It would not have been possible to write this book without the dedicated work of fellow archaeologists, alive and dead, who may be thanked here one and all for the contributions which they have made to the study of prehistoric Ireland.

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