'Little Pompeii' site is even older
A buried settlement dubbed "little Pompeii" is even older than first thought, archaeologists have revealed.
Remains have been uncovered of a fireplace dating to the late 15th century near Dunluce Castle on Northern Ireland's dramatic North Coast.
The fortress was built by an Irish chief and dominated a flourishing town around it until the area was burned and abandoned following a conflict in 1642.
Relics have been discovered in exceptional condition inches below today's surface.
Stormont environment minister Mark H Durkan said: "We are extremely lucky to make this exciting discovery. Very few 15th-century buildings, other than those built entirely from stone, have survived in Ulster and normally there would be few traces, if any, for archaeologists to investigate."
The site is close to the Giant's Causeway World Heritage Site.
A previous environment minister dubbed the settlement little Pompeii in recognition of its historic value.
Mr Durkan said: "This is a tremendously exciting historical development."
Traces of buildings were unearthed close to the cliffs upon which the castle was built. These buildings most likely formed a small settlement, just outside the original castle gate. They pre-date the later expansion of the castle complex and development of 17th-century Dunluce Town, experts said.
Between 2009 and 2012, archaeologists uncovered the lost town of Dunluce, dating back to 1608.
A recent dig, undertaken by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), to reveal more of the town uncovered evidence of the earlier settlement from the late 15th century.
An important discovery was made in a field lying east of the castle. The archaeologists found the remains of a stone-built structure that had a doorway at the corner, which is quite different to the 17th-century buildings revealed to date.
A fireplace in the building has been scientifically dated to the late 15th century. This led archaeologists to suspect an earlier phase of settlement, Mr Durkan said, dating to around the time the McQuillan clan built the castle. Pottery from the late medieval period was also recovered from the structure.
From this strong fortress the McQuillan family controlled a territory on the north Antrim coast known as The Route which stretched along the coast between the rivers Bann and Bush. Their Scottish neighbours in the Glens of Antrim, the MacDonnells, gradually displaced them from the Route and took over Dunluce Castle in the 1550s.