'Significant' finds at Fermanagh dig

Published Thursday, 29 November 2012
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The first substantial excavation of a crannog in Northern Ireland has revealed "significant" artefacts that shed new light on life in medieval Ireland.

'Significant' finds at Fermanagh dig
The dig is the first substantial excavation at a NI crannog. (© DOE)

The dig, at a Co Fermanagh crannog, an artificial island in a lake, has revealed a huge array of artefacts which show a "snap-shot" of life in Ireland from the 17th Century back as far as, at least, to the 9th Century AD, maybe even centuries earlier.

Some of the most striking finds are a wooden bowl that has a cross carved into its base, a unique find from an excavation in Ireland, parts of wooden vessels with interlace decoration and exquisite combs made from antler and bone- status symbols of their day that date to between 1000 and 1100 AD.

And the site near Enniskillen continues to reveal finds that have stunned archaeologists.

Other finds include a large collection of pottery as well as ornaments of iron, bronze and bone.

A huge volume of wooden remains have been found, from gaming "chess like" pieces, to drinking cups right through to the timber foundations of dozens of houses.

Parts of at least two different log boats have been discovered, and a wooden oar, from deposits several centuries older than the boats, has also been found.

Some of the combs are similar to ones found in Dublin and York that date to Viking times.

Archaeologists have also discovered leather shoes and agricultural equipment, along with knives and highly decorated dress pins.

What has been found has the potential not only to be internationally important but ultimately to lead to a reassessment of life in Ulster in early Christian and medieval times.

Environment Minister Alex Attwood

Experts believe the crannog was occupied from at least AD 900 to AD 1600, and was probably the home of a noble family, perhaps with four or five houses lived in at any time, and occupied by an extended family of parents, grandparents, children, servants and others.

The houses were small, little bigger than a modern living room, and were insulated with heather and other plants.

Living conditions at the medieval site were probably cramped, but reasonably comfortable for their time, although the inhabitants would have shared the space with abundant bugs and parasites of all kinds, and the surrounding lake would have resulted in damp floors from time to time.

The objects found show that people were very sophisticated in their tastes, living as farming families, butchering their own animals and ploughing the land for crops.

They were very skilled at metal working and woodworkers - excelling at carpentry to construct the houses and crafting and decorating wooden containers of all sizes.

They played board games probably around the fire on cold evenings and we can assume they sang and played music though no instruments have been found so far.

They wove their own cloth, having spun the wool from their own sheep.

Visiting the Drumclay Crannog dig site on Thursday, Environment Minister Attwood said: "On my two visits to date, I have found the site, the dig, and the archaeology beyond my imagination, enormously exciting and changing my view of our history and Irish life. This is the first substantial, scientific excavation of a crannog in Northern Ireland."

The Drumclay Crannog site will host an Open Day on Saturday 1 December and will allow the public a unique opportunity to see the artefacts and meet the experts behind the dig.

Minister Attwood added: "Archaeology is a fragile and finite resource. Once sites such as this have disappeared, we can never get them back again.

"Such sites have the ability to teach us a great deal and we owe it to future generations to rescue and to safeguard what we can.

"It will further enrich the fascinating fabric of our history and I am sure bring even more tourists to our shores. Anyone who visits on Saturday will simply have an unprecedented opportunity to see how our fore fathers lived and to see history revealed before our very eyes."

© UTV News
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