Early Bronze Age axe-head found in Shantallow

The Bronze Age axe head- the first of its kind to be found anywhere in the Derry area- was uncovered ni the Greater Shantallow area recently.
The Bronze Age axe head- the first of its kind to be found anywhere in the Derry area- was uncovered ni the Greater Shantallow area recently.

An extremely rare bronze axe head dating back thousands of years has been uncovered in the Greater Shantallow area.

The early Irish Bronze Age artefact was uncovered accidentally recently in a field close to the River Foyle by a local man.

While the finder does not want to be named, local archeologist Ian Lietch said it could the first bronze axe head ever found in the Derry area.

The flanged axe head measures about 10 centimetres in length and has a curved edge.

A large flat stone had been found placed over the item, sparking hopes of further materials buried nearby.

The Shantallow area has proved extremely fertile ground for archeologists, with numerous older Neolithic and Mesolithic finds previously uncovered.

Mr Lietch said: “This is yet another discovery in the Shantallow area, which actually means ‘old ground’.

“The axe-head made from bronze is quite an exciting find, it may be the only one of its type found in the Derry City region.

“The axe-head, made solely of bronze, would have been hafted on to piece of timber. However, as the wood rotted, all that is left is the metal artefact, date probably three to four thousand years old.”

He added: “The axe-head may have been lost by its owner, or maybe discarded, or maybe even a ritual had taken place, the offering of prehistoric artefacts to then gods would have probably been quite common thousands of years ago.”

Mr Lietch said it helped build on the picture emerging of the ancient peoples who lived in the Derry area.

“Archaeological sites have been found- some excavated- by archeologists in the past in the Shantallow area,” he said.

These have included back in 1988 a grave from the early Bronze Age site on the Culmore Road area, while there have also been cooking sites, where people cooked their food on a stone or wooden trough.

Evidence of a village was also uncovered on the northern side of Ballyarnett on the edge of a glacial lake.

This discovery was made during archeological field surveying by Mr Lietch in 2002-04. This included a timber palisade built on timbers and drive into the water or boggy ground, and surrounded by a defensive pallisade.

Finds from this site include pottery vessels, an urn, an arrow head, slag from the smelting of metal which showed evidence that metal objects were being made here 3,000 to 4,000 years ago.

In 2004 more of the lake settlement was uncovered including saddle quinns for grinding corn metal working debris, hammer stones and a polished stone axe head, stone bead and stone anvil, as well as a variety of flint tools.

The archeological evidence suggests the Ballyarnett site became too waterlogged and was eventually abandoned.

Human remains and evidence of cooking sites have also been found across the river at a site near Gransha, and dating from the late Bronze Age of between 1,500 to 600 BC, while metal objects from the same period were found at Plough Island, Lough Enagh in Strathfoyle.

Ian remarked that the Bronze Age axe-head was an important find as it may lead to the discovery of other archeological sites in that area.

He would also like to thank the finder for bringing the discovery to his attention.