A Connemara schoolboy has stumbled on an artefact described by an archaeologist as "very significant".
Michael Coohill (11), a pupil at Scoil Mhuire primary school, Clifden, discovered the fragile arrowhead during a visit to Inishbofin, Co Galway.
He was on a school tour last week led by archaeologist Michael Gibbons when he came upon the arrowhead in open bog on the island's West Quarter. The arrowhead is one of a number of Bronze Age artefacts found recently in the south Mayo/Galway area.
It is made of a material identified as soapstone and indicates that working with soapstone was not just a Viking phenomenon, according to the archaeologist.
"We tended to think that Vikings imported soapstone, but there were major sources on Inishbofin, Inishark and on Croagh Patrick," he told The Irish Times.
Soapstone is a metamorphic rock, composed mainly of talc and other minerals which can be cut, sawn or carved, and was used for mould-making from the Bronze Age period.
"Given the soft composition of the stone, it is unusual to see it being used as an arrowhead, but it confirms once again that Inishbofin is one of our best preserved Bronze Age landscapes," Mr Gibbons said. "I've walked this island many times and you'd be a long time looking for anything. We were not long on the island, and I was telling the kids what to identify, when young Michael came across his find."
Plentiful fish resources, a safe harbour and soapstone deposits are thought to have induced some of the early settlers around 4,000 years ago to the island, which lies eight kilometres off the north-west Connemara coast.
Surveys carried out, principally by Mr Gibbons and Jim Higgins over two decades, have revealed evidence of early field systems, terraces, hut sites and fulachta fiadha or ancient cooking pits - indicating a large population in the later Bronze Age which may have put a great strain on its thin soil resources.
Mr Gibbons has reported the new find to the National Museum and has also recorded several other interesting sites in recent weeks in Connemara. Three hilltop cairns crowning the summit of a series of low hills bordering the Moycullen-Oughterard road are believed to be part of an "arc" of Bronze Age/neolithic tombs circling Lough Corrib, he said.
"Summits were regarded as sacred spaces in the Bronze Age and neolithic period and were used for ceremonial and burial purposes," he said.