Toome Artefacts to go on Display?
Rosie Cowan, Ireland correspondent
Monday January 13, 2003
Road excavations in Northern Ireland have unearthed what appears to be evidence of the island's earliest settlers and first farmers.
As the diggers moved in to work on the Toome bypass, outside Toomebridge in Co Antrim, archaeologists found more than 10,000 artefacts, including stone age axe heads and flints from 9,400 years ago, through to bronze age times about 4,500 years ago.
Paul McCooey, of Northern Archaeological Consultancy, said the area was particularly significant because it was a rare transitional site, charting the change from the hunter gatherer life to farming, and providing a fascinating insight into how our ancestors lived.
"From the material we've uncovered so far, it seems farming in Ireland started about 200 years earlier than had previously been supposed," said Mr McCooey, who heads a team of 17 archaeologists working on the site.
"These people came to Ireland several thousand years after the last ice age, paddling across the Irish sea from Scotland in dugout canoes covered in skins. They were hunter gatherers at first. Then they appear to have settled on a drumlin [a hill formed by glacial activity] surrounded by fields which would have flooded when it rained."
The size of the houses - one was 12 metres in diameter - suggested that the settlement became permanent, rather than being a nomadic hunting camp. The inhabitants are thought to have fished and grown cereal crops.
Mr McCooey's team also found the remains of bronze age cooking pits, also used for bathing and religious rituals. They were lined with clay or wood to make them waterproof.
"One of the most thrilling finds has been a two-bladed bronze age knife, the size of a man's hand, carved from flint," he said. "It's extremely rare and beautiful. I've never seen one outside a textbook before."
Archaeologists are flocking to the site. The Ulster Museum in Belfast is keen to give the artefacts a home when excavation have finished next month. Mr McCooey wants to stage an exhibition in Toome first. He would like some pieces to remain permanently on display locally.
He insisted that his dig was not holding up progress on the bypass.
"Cooperation with the construction workers has been excellent," he said. "We simply work on different parts of the site, but they are very interested in what we are doing and when there is a big find, everyone cranes round for a look."
Posted by Rhiannon
13th January 2003ce
Edited 15th March 2004ce