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5 June 2014
Northern Irish Mesolithic settlement lost

A prehistoric settlement in Northern Ireland has been badly damaged without carrying out proper archaeological investigation.
     The Department of the Environment (DoE) said its planning department has launched an enforcement investigation to establish if a breach of planning control had taken place at Ballymaglaff in Dundonald in relation to archaeological matters. Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) also sent staff to inspect the site after concerns were raised about the road access to a new housing development.
     Local historian Peter Carr, who discovered the archaeological site in 1984, says it dates from the early Mesolithic - 8,800-9,800 years ago - and more than 2,000 pieces of struck flint have been found there. "Over 20 of the period's rare and highly distinctive microliths have been discovered here," he said. "The larger part of the site was destroyed in January during the building of an access road to a new housing development. Although the site is on the Department of the Environment's Sites and Monuments record, as a result of an administrative oversight no protective archaeological clause was attached to the planning permission," he added. "Archaeologists tested the area before construction work began, but the 'trial excavation' used the wrong archaeological methods and as a result nothing was found. The archaeological layer, which contained early Mesolithic flints and possibly other material, was left in spoil heaps near the road. These have not been protected and soil from the heaps has subsequently been redistributed," Mr Carr concluded.
     However, DoE planners said they had placed archaeological conditions on the planning permission. "The applicant carried out a test evaluation of lands near the road. This was conducted under licence from NIEA. No archaeological material was identified during this evaluation," a spokesman said.
     Peter Woodman, Ireland's foremost expert on the early Mesolithic period, said few sites on the island have produced such numbers of microliths, which are pieces of blade that would have been inserted into wood or bone to create composite tools. He said: "You excavate for information. Bits and pieces of stone tools are one part of that, but there are other equally important things." Excavation at Ballymaglaff could have yielded evidence of huts, post holes and fireplaces to help build a picture of how early humans lived in Ireland, he said. "The destruction of a site about which so little is known is always a great tragedy," Mr Woodman said.
     Mr Carr insisted Ballymaglaff could still yield valuable information. "If the department gets its act together, material could still be salvaged from what remains of the heaps," he said.

Edited from Belfast Telegraph (3 June 2014)

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