Prehistoric find sheds light on Neolithic life

The discovery of a Neolithic-era settlement is helping to shed new light on how people lived on the shores of Lough Foyle some 5,000 years ago.

Archaeologists discovered evidence of two large rectangular houses dating to around 3800 BC. C. during a 2021 excavation in Clooney Road, Londonderry.

Neolithic tools, pottery and kitchen utensils have also been unearthed.

Experts say homes like those found in Derry have rarely been excavated before.

Archaeologist Katy McMonagle was the site manager at the Clooney Road excavation.

The findings appear in the latest series of BBC Two’s Digging for Britain.

Rectangular houses from the period are rarely found outside of Scotland and Ireland, McMonagle said.

“Around Lough Foyle specifically there are quite a few, it has a high density of settlement dating to the early Neolithic, which shows that around Lough Foyle there are a lot of Neolithic people living,” he told BBC Radio Foyle’s Mark Patterson programme.

Archaeologists rarely have the opportunity to excavate houses of the type found in Derry, he added.

“They were a short-lived phenomenon, that means it’s even more exciting,” he said.

The 5,000-year-old houses were much larger than the average home today.

There is evidence of party walls, foundations that may have supported oak planks, and structures covered by a large gabled roof.

Circular dwellings (round houses) are more typical of the Neolithic period, which occurred between 4000 and 2000 BC.

It was when people adopted agriculture as a way of life and stopped being nomadic hunter-gatherers.

The Derry settlement, where it is located and the way it is built, is evidence of the shift towards a more stable way of life, Ms McMonagle said.

“When we were digging it up, you could see how incredible it would have looked, how deep the foundation was.

“The soil is good there and they are in a substantial location, with Lough Foyle as a resource, it would have been a beautiful wooded area in the Neolithic.

“They would have been using that landscape so well.”

The tools and utensils found are also evidence of advances that were made in the Neolithic period on the island of Ireland, he said.

‘Like a Swiss army knife’

The Northern Archeology Consultancy team, which was called in prior to the construction of a modern housing development, found serrated tools used to remove bark, unique to Ireland, and a flat-convex knife.

This latter artifact, Ms McMonagle said, was used for “a little bit of everything, like a Swiss Army knife.” Knives like this were used much earlier on the island of Ireland than elsewhere, she added.

A grinding stone was found, which shows that the inhabitants knew how to work the grain, how to cultivate the land they inhabited.

It is not the first time that evidence of Neolithic period settlements has been discovered on the banks of the Foyle.

A 6,000-year-old village was discovered in 2000 during an excavation ahead of the construction of Thornhill College’s new school in the Culmore area of ​​Derry.

Six thousand years of axeheads, arrowheads and pottery are among the artifacts recovered from a site that archaeologists say could have been home to some 50 of Ireland’s earliest farmers.

Post-excavation work is now ongoing on the Clooney Road finds. Some of what the team found is expected to be released publicly at a future date.

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