Belfast Telegraph

Book lovers given chance to meet an ancient ancestor

By Brendan McDaid

A 4,500-year-old burial chamber discovered in Londonderry has been reconstructed in the city’s Central Library.

The skeletal bones of a man are encased in the replica of the Bronze Age chamber uncovered during excavations back in 1988.

The remains have since been taken to Wales for specialist testing which revealed the ancient Celt was aged between 24 and 30 when he died.

Examinations of his teeth and bones confirmed his diet was not rough, possibly indicating a high rank among the Celtic clans that populated Ireland at the time.

Muscle and ligament markings around the knees also indicated he did a lot of walking, while hygiene was also found to be good.

An earthenware patterned urn, made from moulded clay, was found beside the remains.

Researchers believe this was likely to have been a sacred vessel, possibly containing grain or alcohol, to aid him into the passage of the afterlife.

The man was found buried in a foetal position, with his head facing east, the Celtic custom which was linked to sun worship.

Tom Timoney was among those who was in the field near the former Thornhill College site in Culmore on March 14, 1988, when the discovery was made.

He said that while the team from the community based Templemore Archaeology group was examining the general area, the grave was only discovered when a local farmer dislodged a large capstone with a plough.

The stone is believed to have been placed over the burial site back in 2500BC, possibly to ward off animals.

Mr Timoney said there was no evidence to suggest the man’s death was unusual. “That would have been an older age for people to have lived to back then, the equivalent of 80 years of age now.

“They got married at 12 to 14 and a female would have had around 11 pregnancies. Many would have died giving birth and a lot of children would have died during childbirth.

“This particular man was in good condition and would have been between 5ft 4ins-7ins tall.”

George Cairns from the Templemore team said: “I am really glad to see the past is being brought to the fore. This is the same area where Amelia Earhart landed and also where the old racecourse in Derry was located — and the archaeological work reveals that the area’s importance goes way back to the neolithic, mesolithic and Bronze Age periods.”

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