What has an ancient bear got to do with human existence? Well, a lot, because it can push back the first human arrival in Ireland as early as 2,500 years.

Since the 1970s, experts believed the Irish civilization began during the Mesolithic Period or around 8,000 B.C. following the discovery of a settlement in a Londonderry county.

However, in a paper published in Quaternary Science Reviews on March 21, researchers revealed that the first humans in Ireland might have arrived in 10,500 B.C. or during the Paleolithic Period.

The discovery was accidental. In 2010, National Museum of Ireland research associate and co-author Ruth Carden found a 113-year-old patella (kneecap) bone of an adult bear, which was excavated in Alice and Gwendoline Cave in Co Clare, untouched inside a cardboard box in the museum since the 1920s.

The bone had noted markings, but it never underwent dating since the technology was not available until the 1940s. So Carden, together with Institute of Technology Sligo archeologist and lead author Marion Dowd, applied for funding from the Royal Irish Academy. After receiving it, they asked Queen's University Belfast to do it. They also sent bone samples to Oxford University researchers who confirmed the date as well as to three other specialists in Europe who noted that the age of the cut marks is the same as that of the bone.

The authors were "shocked" by the results. "Yes, we expected a prehistoric date, but the Paleolithic result took us completely by surprise," Dowd shared.

The bone markings also suggested that the carcass was still fresh when it was being butchered but that whoever wanted to separate the joint didn't succeed perhaps because of lack of experience, poor tools or level of difficulty.

For her part, Carden, who is also an animal osteologist, calls the discovery "exciting" and that "this paper should generate a lot of discussion within the zoological research world ... it's time to start thinking outside the box ... or even dismantling it entirely!"

The authors are presently seeking more funding so they can date hundreds of other bones in the same collection.

In 2015, the discovery of a partial leg bone fossil found in Red Deer Cave in southwest China also suggested that some human ancestors may have lived longer than the Late Plestoceine Period.

Here's a video discussing the discovery:


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