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 have found evidence of two large rectangular houses dating back to about 3800 BC. During a 2021 excavation at Clooney Road, Londonderry.

Neolithic tools, pottery and cooking utensils have also been excavated.

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

Archaeologist Katy McMonagle was the Site Director of the Clooney Road excavation.

The finds are featured in the latest series of BBC Two’s Digging for Britain.

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

“There are quite a few around Lough Foyle in particular – it has a high density of settlements dating back to the early Neolithic – which shows that there are a lot of Neolithic people living around Lough Foyle,” she told BBC Radio Foyle’s Mark Patterson Show.

Archaeologists rarely have the chance to excavate houses of the type found in Derry, she added.

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

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

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

Round dwellings – round houses – are more typical of the Neolithic period which took place between 4,000 and 2,000 BC.

It was when people started farming as a way of life and moved away from nomadic hunter gatherers.

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

“When we were excavating it you could see how great it would have looked, how deep the foundations were.

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

“They would have used that landscape so well.”

The tools and utensils found are also evidence of the progress made on the island of Ireland during the Neolithic period, she said.

‘Like a Swiss army knife’

The Northern Archeology Consultancy team, called in ahead of construction of a modern housing development, found serrated tools used to strip bark – unique to Ireland – and a Plano convex blade.

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

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

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

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

Six-thousand-year-old ax heads, arrowheads and pottery were among the artifacts recovered from a site that archaeologists said could have been home to about 50 of Ireland’s earliest farmers.

Post-excavation work is now underway on the Clooney Road finds. It is hoped that some of what the team found will be put on public display in the future.

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