What is a midden?

prehistoric midden of shells in the swamp Vilseskogen via Compfight

There is evidence of people living at Rathdown during the Neolithic or New Stone Age (2,500 BC). In March 1991 part of the cliff at North Beach, Greystones adjacent to Rathdown collapsed into the sea. A newspaper report of the time explains that Grove Residents Association salvaged the find.

‘The items which they recovered over the Easter holidays include a number of fine Neolithic flints, several shards of medieval pottery, some animal bones and teeth, medieval nails and a piece of buckle’ (1) 

The haul provided evidence that there was habitation at Rathdown from prehistoric to medieval times.

‘In March 1991, after a period of prolonged rainfall a large section of cliff collapsed just north of the Gap Bridge revealing a midden site.’(2)

The students are very taken with the word ‘midden’ (an old Norse word) and are initially disappointed to hear that a midden is the equivalent of a rubbish dump. But their interest is renewed when they learn of discoveries archaeologists make, about the type of food our ancestors ate by examining these dumping grounds.

Mollusks formed a significant addition to the diet of those living along the coast in prehistoric times. The children speculate from what they see on Greystones sea shore today that the shells found in the midden could have included oysters, cockles, mussels, limpets, whelks, periwinkles, crab claws and fish bones. The chemical composition of the shells slow down the rate of decay within the midden which in turn preserve other materials in the heap.


1. George Jacob ‘Historic find as section of cliff collapses,’ Bray People, April 1991

2. Patrick Neary ‘A Saddle Quern or Grinding Stone from Rathdown Lower, Co.Wicklow https://trowelucd.files.wordpress.com/1992/10/trowel_iii.pdf

Stone Age Webquest – for Senior Classes

Webquest for 6th class

Task :  With your partner visit these ten weblinks

The producer of a series of educational documentaries has invited you to help him produce an animation about the Neolithic Era (The New Stone Age) and evidence of its links with Greystones. You will be working with a partner. Both of you are  to help produce this animation by doing some research. Click on the following ten links in order to collect accurate information about the New Stone Age and its links with Greystones. Use the power of teamwork and the resources on the internet to learn about the Neolithic Era. Finally, you will draft a storyboard for the animation.

Objectives: Children should learn: From their research with their partner what do they know about how people in Stone Age times lived?

What are Greystones links with Stone Age settlers.

What evidence tells us Stone Age people lived in the Greystones area?

Why did the early settlers decide to live in the Greystones area?

So as to produce a storyboard detailing what they found out.


Children follow this ten step webquest to learn about the Stone Age

Learning outcomes


Make a storyboard to illustrate what they have learned about the Stone Age

Points to note

Children to decide what is the key information to be presented.

This research would be conducted over four weeks.

Eastern recessCreative Commons License Rob Hurson via Compfight

1.      Weblink One

In 1992 part of a cliff fell into the sea at Rathdown to the North of Greystones


Read the newspaper report from The Bray People about this event.

What was found includes some artifacts from the New Stone Age (Neolithic Era). What exactly was found from the Stone Age?

2.      Weblink Two

If you found a strangely shaped stone in the rockfall, how would you know it was a Stone Age tool. Click on this link to learn how


3.      In the cliff fall a shell midden was also found. What is a midden? 

Use the search and find facility (Control+F) to find the word midden in this piece. 


What would you expect to find in a midden? 

What does this information tell us about the food Stone Age people ate? 

Based on this information start a list of food the Stone Age people ate.

4.      Take a look at this photograph of a rubbish pit. 

Discuss the answers to the questions on your page with your partner. 


5.      Here is a piece about Stone Age food. 

Is there any new food items that you haven’t on your list so far?


Add any new items to your list.

6.      In 2006 a student found a Neolithic tool in the school yard. Click on this link to find out what it was


7.      Would you know how to use an ancient stone tool if you unearthed one? Try your hand here. 


8.      Click on this link to find out why Stone Age people may have chosen to settle in Rathdown, to the North of Greystones


9.    Watch this short animation on the Stone Age.


What did you learn about the Stone Age that you didn’t know before?

10.  Here is an animation on a Stone Age settlement at Skara Brae in Scotland


Did you learn anything new from the animation about Skara Brae?

Follow up Activity

What would you and your partner include in a storyboard about the Neolithic Era if you were making an animation about the Stone Age?

Start your storyboard now.

–          Be sure to include Greystones links with Stone Age settlers.

–          What evidence tells us Stone Age people lived in the Greystones area?

–          Why did the early settlers decide to live in the area?

–          From your research what do you know about how people in Stone Age times lived?

Food Long Age – from the Stone Age to Post War

Click HERE for a Historical Cookbook

from the CookIt website.

For example you can see what the Vikings,

the Victorians and our GREAT grandparents liked to eat.

Click HERE and you can design a menu for a Viking

or a family during World War 2 who were living on rations.

Waste Not - Want Not Prepare for Winter : Canada Food Board sensitive campaign / « Waste Not - Want Not - Prepare for Winter » : Campagne de sensibilisation de la Commission canadienne du RavitaillementCreative Commons License BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives via Compfight



Rathdown – 4,500 years ago

The very first visitors to Greystones,

4,500 years ago didn’t stay where the town is today,

but instead they settled at Rathdown, just to the north.

This was when the Stone Age people came.

In 1992, part of the cliff at Rathdown collapsed into the sea.

Newspaper reports at the time say that

Neolithic flints were among the finds.

The Neolithic era is sometimes called the New Stone Age.


1. The Palaeolithic or Old Stone Age came first.

It lasted from 2,700 million years ago

to around 10,000 years ago.

During this time men were hunter gatherers.

Tools were mostly made of stone

but also of wood, bone and leather.


2.During the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age

smaller stone tools such as arrow or spear heads were made .

The first boats were made

so men could now fish as well as hunt.

Man’s best friend the dog was tamed during this time.


3.During the Neolithic or New Stone Age

man started to farm the land.

Can you imagine the early farmers

working on the land at Rathdown?


This is a flint that a student found in the school playground.

Useful Links for Teachers: The Stone Age

Prehistoric Rock PaintingsCreative Commons License David Stanley via Compfight

Archaeology  in the Classroom – It’s About Time! 

lesson plans and resources from Limerick Education Centre

and the Department of the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht

and Primary Curriculum Support Service (2005)

It’s About Time – Module 4 – The Stone Age Hunters

Interactive Stone Age Tool Kit from PBS

Dorling Kindersley’s FindOut.com – Stone Age Food

Mountsandel.com – An interactive site from Coleraine Borough Council, Northern Ireland


Why Stone Age people settled at Rathdown

DSCF2126 Urban_Mongoose via Compfight


So the question is why do you think

people long ago decided to live at

Rathdown rather than Greystones?

We think these early settlers chose to live in Rathdown

• Because it was more sheltered,

(Greystones would be wild and windy.)
• There was the sea and a fresh water spring nearby.
• They could eat the birds and animals in the wood.
• It was on a hill. They could see their enemies coming.


We think these early settlers chose to live

north of Greystones because it was more sheltered.

There were the advantages of living beside the sea

and having a fresh water spring nearby.

Woodland birds and animals

could have been a source of food.

Teachers can find more Stone Age resources

by clicking on THIS LINK.

The Stone Age – and its links with Greystones.


Let’s start at the very beginning …

The Stone Age was the time when stone

was used to make tools and weapons.

The Stone Age lasted  approximately 3.4 million years.

The Stone Age ended about 2,000 years BC.

The Stone Age ended when people learned

to use metals like bronze and then iron.

In 1992, part of the cliff at Rathdown fell into the sea.

Among the rocks and stones were found artifacts like flints.

These artifacts showed that people had lived at

Rathdown from Stone Age times.

Click on this link from Encyclopedia Britannica Kids

on Scoilnet to see what an artifact is.

Click on this link to see a newspaper article from the

Bray People in 1992 reporting the find.

The flint at the top of this post was found

in our school yard in 2006.

Read about how it was discovered here.