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8 November 2010
Neolithic knives found at Tirnony Dolmen

Neolithic flint blades, found in the interior of the Tirnony Dolmen (Maghera, Northern Ireland) was likely left with the body of an individual who was buried there 5,500 years ago. Archaeologists excavating the ancient tomb say "it's the best find of the dig so far".
     The 4.5cm long, 1cm wide knife blade made from translucent flint - in pristine condition - suggests the tomb was not 'excavated' in the 18th or 19th centuries by antiquarians who frequently looted the artefacts but rarely recorded or published their work. There is no trace of the handle of the knife, which was probably made from an organic material which has decayed.
     As we already reported, last April the ancient tomb's massive capstone fell off, severely damaging one of the supporting stones. Now, the necessary repair works offer archaeologists from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency the chance of a lifetime excavating the ancient burial monument.
     Cormac McSparron, who is from the Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork at Queen's University Belfast, which is working with DoE archaeologists, said: "We expected to find evidence of human burial, but the nature of the soil has caused any bones to decay completely. But what we have found is grave goods placed in the tomb with the bodies. We have found several different types of flint tools - a couple of really fine flint knives and flint scrapers placed into the tomb with the personal possessions of the deceased, presumably for them to take with them into the afterlife."
     Pottery bowls dating from around 3,500 or 3,600 BCE were also found. Mr McSparron said there was also evidence for later use of the tomb. "It became a centre of local interest and a ritual centre coming into almost the Christian era, and we have found a really beautiful blue glass bead dating to 200-300 CE which would have been placed into the tomb, probably as a pendant rather than a necklace," he said.

Edited from NIEA Archaeology Blog (21 October 2010), Heritage Key (25 October 2010), Belfast Telegraph (4 November 2010)

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