Environment Minister Mark H Durkan today announced an extension to Derry’s archaeological dig which is uncovering artefacts some 4,000 years old.
The dig will now continue until Friday 11 October 2013.
The Minister also announced that the dig will be open to the public on Saturday 28 September.
The dig, organised by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), Derry City Council: Museum and Heritage Service and the Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork, Queen’s University Belfast, is uncovering artefacts predating the Walled City itself.
Minister Durkan said: “The archaeologists are this week now discovering evidence of the settlement created by Sir Henry Docwra in 1600, which predates the Walled City of 1613 onwards. Two very exciting discoveries have been made which can now date the first evidence of human occupation within the Walled City area to even earlier.
“The first find is of a flint tool known as a scraper, which would have been used to clean and prepare animal hides in the production of clothes or other goods. A piece of decorated pottery has also been recovered by the archaeologists and it would have been part of a large urn, possibly from a burial. Both the finds date to the Early Bronze Age some 4,000 years ago and are the earliest evidence so far uncovered on the Island of Derry.
“These Early Bronze Age finds are fantastic. This dig has moved the date of the earliest occupation within the area of the Walled City back thousands of years. I have asked the team to stay on for another two weeks and I would like to take this opportunity to thank DRD Minister, Danny Kennedy for granting the extension to this dig and his department’s Roads Service for their kind cooperation in allowing us access to the dig site.”
The work is being undertaken at a car park adjacent to the City Walls and St Augustine’s Church.
The dig has already uncovered human burials from the seventeenth century. These appear to represent just one phase of burial and may be early settlers laid to rest in the vicinity of an existing medieval church before St. Columb’s cathedral was built. One man was clearly a pipe smoker as there is a groove worn in his upper front teeth from clenching a pipe. Another burial may contain a clergyman and a double burial nearby could hold the remains of a man and wife buried together.
The Minister continued: “The burials are very important and will allow us a rare opportunity to study some of the early seventeenth century settler population at Derry. At present we are discussing the best way forward for reburial of the remains once the dig and post-excavation studies are complete.
“I welcome the opportunity we are creating here for local people to get involved with their heritage and hope that everyone can come along to the dig open day this Saturday from 10am-3pm.”
The excavation is surrounded by low fencing from which the dig can be viewed by visitors each day from 9am – 4.30pm.