A 5,500-YEAR-OLD dug-out canoe that was found by a schoolteacher and his son on a beach near Barna has been conserved for underwater display in the Galway Atlantaquaria in Salthill.
The neolithic vessel pre-dates the Egyptian pyramids and was unveiled to mark World Ocean Day yesterday in the Salthill aquarium.
Its location is further evidence of significantly lower sea levels on this part of the coastline during that period, according to Prof Michael O'Connell of NUI Galway's palaeo-environmental research unit and NUIG archaeology lecturer Conor Newman, who has just been appointed new chair of the Heritage Council.
The vessel, carved from pine, was found at Turlin Bay near Barna after severe storms in December 2002 by school principal Brian Ó Carra and his son, Ronán.
Mr Ó Carra had already discovered ancient tree trunks and deer antlers embedded in peat layers under the sand in the same area. Waves had stripped some of the peat, exposing the vessel's prow.
Mr Ó Carra contacted Mr Newman in NUIG and arrangements were made to have the vessel retrieved.
It was taken to the Salthill aquarium, where manager Liam Twomey secured permission from the National Museum of Ireland to begin conservation of the vessel.
Mr Newman and Prof O'Connell believe that the canoe's location proves that Turlin Bay was once a freshwater lake surrounded by forest at some distance from the coast.
It represents an "important chapter" in the "unfolding story of interaction between Galway people" and a landscape formed by the Ice Age, they say.
Some 350 dug-out canoes have been recorded in Ireland, many of which were preserved over millenniums in bogs and lakes. The oldest, from the late mesolithic period, were located around Lough Neagh. The largest to date is the Lurgan logboat, found at Addergoole bog near Tuam, Co Galway, and displayed in the National Museum.
The museum is monitoring the canoe's conservation as it desalinates in a tank designed by Adrian Brooks of the Galway Atlantaquaria.
The "experiment" in underwater exhibition is the only one of its type in Ireland, according to Mr Newman.
The canoe was one of a number of exhibits at World Ocean Day, which attracted hundreds of visitors to the aquarium.
Antarctic enthusiasts displayed the equipment used by Sir Ernest Shackleton and his colleagues almost a century ago.
The aquarium also hosted marine science displays, and the work of organisations including the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, Marine Institute, NUIG's Environmental Change Institute and Galway's Volvo Ocean Race stopover was also highlighted.