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Ballynashllog Jackpot October 5, 2000
by Paul G. Bahn

[image] Excavations in Thornhill, Derry, Northern Ireland, have revealed houses yielding evidence of domestic life more than 5,000 years ago. (Paul Logue) [LARGER IMAGE]

An important new Neolithic village, the site Ballynashllog, has been discovered in Thornhill, Derry, in Northern Ireland. Found by archaeologists on a location being developed for construction of Thornhill College, the site has been declared as one "of international significance." According to Department of the Environment archaeologist Paul Logue, "We've hit the jackpot, it's a dream discovery, one that you come across once in a lifetime." The village is 100 meters across thus far in an ongoing excavation, with pottery evidence dating it to 4000-3000 B.C. Logue guesses that the village, located on a ridge above a lake, sheltered anywhere from 15 to 50 people.

The post and stake holes of at least three large houses, two rectangular and one circular, have been distinguished within a wooden palisade. Logue notes that remains of domestic life as well as of ritual activity have been found. Domestic finds include various scrapers, borers, beads, and pottery consisting mainly of undecorated carinated bowls. At the north end of the enclosure is a possible ritual area: a line of shallow pits containing "arrangements" of hammerstones, rubbing stones, and quartz separate this area from sections of domestic activity. These stone arrangements, according to Logue, indicate that the people "were possibly giving things back to the earth" in a ritualistic act. Logue reports that beyond this line of pits is "a semicircular setting of paired pits which seem to contain pot burials." Each pit appears to have been covered over and surrounded by a ring of stake holes.

Thus far, the enclosure wall surrounding the entire site shows five phases that are perhaps increasing in size over time. "At the western limit of the site," says Logue, "the penultimate phase of palisade has been burnt down and collapsed inward. Amongst the disturbed slot and burnt debris we are finding burnt and unburnt flint arrowheads. This is obviously highly suggestive of an attack on the site during this phase. The destroyed length of palisade then seems to be replaced by a posthole constructed enclosure line." These conclusions help to fill out the image of the Neolithic period, already obtained from sites in England, Germany, and elsewhere, as a time when extreme violence sometimes occurred.

Other important finds include a stone ax, which came from England's Lake District, and other axes made from the rock porcellanite, which only occurs in the North Antrim area. Logue comments that "the only way these things could have gotten to the site was by some sort of trade process." These finds thus provide a fresh indication of the widespread trade routes of the period. "It is rare to get such a complete view of a site," Logue continues, and he hopes that knowing the exact boundaries of the settlement will help to reveal most of the daily activities of the people who lived there. "This site is amazing," he concludes, "and is easily one of the most important in Ireland for understanding the Neolithic."

© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America