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Prehistoric artefacts unearthed during Stranmillis training dig

Discoveries trace back to Belfast around 4,000BC

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Melissa Sharpe and Gemma Shawcross at the dig on the Stranmillis College site which has uncovered a Middle Neolithic hollow scraper from around 3,600BC. Credit: Stephen Hamilton

Melissa Sharpe and Gemma Shawcross at the dig on the Stranmillis College site which has uncovered a Middle Neolithic hollow scraper from around 3,600BC. Credit: Stephen Hamilton

Stephen Hamilton

A Middle Neolithic hollow scraper from around 3,600BC

A Middle Neolithic hollow scraper from around 3,600BC

Stephen Hamilton

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Melissa Sharpe and Gemma Shawcross at the dig on the Stranmillis College site which has uncovered a Middle Neolithic hollow scraper from around 3,600BC. Credit: Stephen Hamilton

Archaeology students at Queen’s University have uncovered prehistoric artefacts at a Belfast college — including pottery shards and flint tools — dating back as far as the Middle Neolithic period.

The items, which are believed to be some 6-7,000 years old, have been dug from the grounds of Stranmillis College tracing roots to life in south Belfast as far back as 4000BC.

Leading the dig, focused on three sites on the Stranmillis Estate, Site Director Ruth Logue said the discoveries have caused great excitement amongst the students, many of whom were experiencing on-site work for the first time.

Ruth herself said the finds are likely just the tip of the iceberg.

“This has been a really exciting few weeks for us,” she said, “but it’s my no means a large scale operation.

“We initially came here on June 21 with a plan to dig at three sites, but we were hopeful of finding medieval relics and possibly the site of a former 17th century plantation house in the college grounds, not quite what we’ve found which dates much, much further back than that,” she said.

“It’s a very exciting discovery as it provides new information about the earliest inhabitants of the Belfast region.

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“Previous discoveries have given us information about prehistoric activity in the landscape of what is now south Belfast — but this latest discovery  has revealed possible settlement activity.”

The students also discovered agricultural materials and features from the 17th to 19th centuries at another trench on the site at Stranmillis.

“We know that Arthur Chichester granted land at Stranmillis in 1606 and we have been trying to locate the site of a 17th century plantation house.

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A Middle Neolithic hollow scraper from around 3,600BC

A Middle Neolithic hollow scraper from around 3,600BC

Stephen Hamilton

A Middle Neolithic hollow scraper from around 3,600BC

“We’ve been concentrating on land around the old Victorian farmhouse on the Stranmillis site, looking at an area of woodland and agricultural buildings. Land previously built on tends to be reused.

“We didn’t expect to find anything dating back to pre-historic times.”

The items uncovered will now be sent to experts at Queen’s for cleaning where a more approximate date can be put on them.

“As with any dig of this nature the items will then be returned to Stranmillis as they are the property of the landowner,” said Ruth. “It will be up to the college what happens to them after that.

“We’ve only been able to do down a couple of metres this time. Finding something so historically important as this has certainly whet the appetite of our young archaeologists, and if we’re lucky enough to be granted permission to return for a more extensive dig I’m sure there are plenty more treasures.”

Queen’s University archaeology student, Ryan Montgomery, was among those involved in the dig.

“The Stranmillis College excavation was a fantastic experience for all involved,” he said. “We were given the opportunity to excavate through three very different scenarios as a group from modern rubble and waste, manicured lawns and forest floors in one compact area.

“Under the instruction of the Centre for Community Archaeology archaeologists we learned essential skills such as recognising changing layers and identifying features within as well as how to record these.

“The excavation was educational and fun and left us feeling confident to move forward into our careers as archaeologists.”


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