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Newbuildings time team to excavate ancient Rath

Londonderry Sentinel
By Olga Bradshaw - 21st January 2009

MEMBERS of Newbuildings and District Archaeological and Historical Society are eagerly awaiting the results of a new survey scheduled to take place this week, to discover what lies beneath a rath which has been discovered in the village.
The Rath is located off Gortinure Road, and excitement is mounting as to what it might reveal.
The idea to excavate the site is the latest 'baby' for members of the village 'Dig Committee' - an off-shoot of the Archaeological and Historial Society, whose members include Richard Brennan, Roy Orr, John Mitchell and Roger McCorkell.
The foursome have organised an investigative three-day licenced dig of the site, which was identified on Ordinance Survey maps with a symbol for a 'souterrain' - a French word meaning underground.
The ordinary passer-by could be forgiven for missing the site as on the surface there is no evidence of what lies beneath, essentially it is just a flat grass field.
But, as Roger explains, all is not what it seems on the surface: "In June 2005 with the guidance of Belfast Archaeologist Firm, Gahan and Long, we carried out the dig in search of the souterrain. This is an ancient underground tunnel dating back to about 800 AD. The tunnels would have been built by local people as a place of refuge in a time when Vikings would have sailed up the River Foyle and have carried out raids on any dwellings they came across.
The dig and 'live' opening of the souterrain was to have been filmed by a BBC production team for a future screening of their historical programme 'Earth Works'.
"They filmed the first day but when we failed to find the top of the tunnels they wouldn't bring back the rest of their equipment as there would have been nothing to film. However, what we did find and was unknown to us previously was evidence of a huge Rath or ring fort," he said.
Despite the find of the Rath it was not until 2007 that the Dig Committee decided to organise another dig - but this time they are being more scientific about it.
"We applied to the Lottery Awards for All fund and were delighted to have been awarded a total of £9,575 to cover the cost of an archaeological Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey followed by another dig."
They are hoping that the GPR survey will identify the tops of the tunnels as well as any other unknown underground features.
"This time when we carry out the dig we will know exactly using Ground Positioning Satellite maps where to dig. We are hoping that a number a tunnels will be identified as we have talked to a number of men who had ploughed the land over the last 50 years and had pointed out more than one place where the wheel of their tractor have created and gone into a deep hole.
"The holes were covered over to let them finish the ploughing and the position was then lost. We are also hoping to discover the full extent of the Rath and maybe come across remains of dwellings or even ancient artifacts," said Roger.
moss Posted by moss
22nd January 2009ce

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