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22 August 2003
Important Bronze Age finds in Ulster

As bulldozers prepared the ground for the new £1.9m Mid-Ulster Sport Academy at Tullywiggan Road (Loughry, Northern Ireland), a team of archaeologists were delving deep into Mid-Ulster's past on the edge of the site. Mr Chapple, site director of excavations for Northern Archaeological Consultancy, said that the amount of material uncovered is 'phenomenal'.
     There are two sites being investigated and Mr Chapple said he was hoping that one of these - to the north - could turn out to show evidence of a Bronze Age (2,000-1,500 BCE) house. The majority of the artefacts found in the latest dig were uncovered on the more southerly of the two drumlins being investigated.
     Under what appeared to be the natural subsoil was a layer of charcoal-like material which was rich with flint and bone. "Throughout the Bronze Age they had different burial rites - three of them recorded within a couple of hundred yards of each other here." Mr Chapple said the three in the Loughry area are a megalithic tomb (found in the 1860s), a cist burial (excavated in 1941), and a barrow (4m wide, 1.5 metres deep with an internal diameter of 34m) which has been uncovered in the latest excavation.
     "Barrows are usually a lot smaller, about 10-12m in diameter," said Mr Chapple. "This is at the very large end of the scale. In my experience it's almost unique, I have never seen anything this size, also in terms of the artefacts that come out of it, it's incredible. The site is incredibly significant for a number of reasons. It's not an isolated site, as we have three of the major types of Bronze Age burial all happening within a couple of hundred yards of each other which shows this is part of a vibrant Bronze Age culture."
     "The very best of the material we have here is like this type of artefact called a scraper" added Mr Chapple. "But we  have bagged and checked more than 2,400 artefacts with the majority of these coming from the barrow area." The artefacts include flint, bone and pieces of pottery. "My feeling is that there has to be some ritual significance to the deposition of this material," said Mr Chapple. "The pottery seems to have been smashed into the ground and in some places bones were put into an urn and smashed into the ground."
     The majority of the bone pieces found by the archaeologists are tiny flecks. "Certainly some of the bones are human," said Mr Chapple. "Possibly some of it will turn out to be animal bone as well. We have a portion of animal teeth, specifically pig. This could be connected with feasting going on as part of the funeral ritual or this could be as an animal sacrifice on a pyre that goes to the afterlife with you. Somewhere is this vicinity a cremation pyre was set up," said the archaeologist, "Bone and charcoal was all swept up then brought here and deposited. The likelihood is that it built up over decades if not centuries."
     While excited at the finds made already, Mr Chapple anxiously awaits to see what may turn up on the more northerly site. "Up on the other hill we have a small enclosure," he said. "That seems to be composed of two concentric circles that possibly are from another form of barrow or, what Iím hoping for, is they're part of a Bronze Age house. We won't know for quite some time." The archaeologist praised Cookstown District Council for its decision to leave the drumlins intact at Loughry. Council chief executive Michael McGuckin said some 'modest redesign' of the £1.9m scheme had been necessary to avoid upsetting the drumlins where the historical artefacts have been found.

Source: The Mid-Ulster Mail (22 August 2003)

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