Prehistoric mysteries uncovered in an archaeological dig at a Co Down road scheme were revealed to the public this morning.
The team behind the dig at the A1 Loughbrickland road scheme has uncovered not just a Bronze Age burial ground but also a Neolithic settlement dating back some 6,500 years.
The settlements, which contained a number of intriguing artefacts, lay on a finger of land which is believed to have been almost surrounded by water in prehistoric times. Three books on the finds have been published, including ‘Digging Down’, a children’s book, and a number of information boards at Loughbrickland lakeside were unveiled by Education Minister Caitriona Ruane this morning.
Kev Beachus, of Jacobs Engineering UK Ltd who headed the dig team, said that one-hectare site had contained a Bronze Age crematorium and round barrows containing the buried remains of eight or nine people.
“They had been ploughed into the field for years and years. On the top you didn’t know they were there, but when you dug deeper there they were,” he said.
“There were also three neolithic houses — the first to be excavated in Co Down. The three houses all dated to about 4,500BC.
“The barrows seem to have been in use for about 100-200 years and between the first use and end use is about 1,000 years. That means in 1,000 years we have had eight people buried. Where are the rest of them? That is the big question.”
Three of the houses burned down and radio carbon dating suggests that they were all burned at the same time, Kev said.
“They were living on land between the lake and the bog and it looks like they exploited these for food and security,” he added.
“We have evidence that they were making their own pottery and there is evidence that clay for the pottery came from the lake.”
However, not all the artefacts were made locally. The team has discovered flints from Co Antrim, stones from Mt Gabriel in the Republic and bizarrely a jet bead which would have come from Whitby in Lancashire. This ‘spacer bead’ is oblong with four drilled holes and was used to separate necklace strands.
Kev said: “The question is, are there trade links all the way across the country, with one person selling to another and that person selling to another or did one person go all the way to Whitby?
It just doesn’t seem likely — he’d have been gone for weeks.”
Education Minister Caitriona Ruane: There was also a cut and polished slate disc 2cm in diameter which archaeologists are theorising may have been a ‘pass token’, presented on arrival at a village to show that the holder was of good character. Another ‘mini cup’, a cup 4cm in diameter and 2 cm deep, contains the fingernail impressions of its maker.
“The discovery on the A1 Loughbrickland to Beech Hill scheme of a Bronze Age burial ground and a Neolithic settlement site dating back 6,500 years is significant, and it has increased knowledge and understanding of pre-history in this area of Co Down.”
“The display of these information boards marks the completion of the archaeological works associated with the A1 Loughbrickland to Beech Hill dual carriageway scheme. Such works are an important aspect of the environmental work which Roads Service undertakes as part of its programme of road improvements.
“My Department is committed to fully record and research the archaeological sites that turn up from time to time in our road construction sites. The archaeological find near Loughbrickland has been acknowledged as rare and extremely significant, and it is good that the people of this area can access the information now displayed here and learn more about the history of the area.”