Video: Evidence of Bronze Age life at Tullaghoge Fort

The leader of an archaeological team surveying the Tullaghoge Fort site has spoken of his hope that the planned redevelopment will allow more people to enjoy the “premier archaeological site in Ulster”.

The excavation by the eight-person team from Queen’s University is the first phase of works at the ancient site which, it is hoped, will eventually allow better access and an interpretive area at the monument.

Archaeologist Brian Sloan with the flint scraper found at the excavation site at Tullyhogue Fort.

Archaeologist Brian Sloan with the flint scraper found at the excavation site at Tullyhogue Fort.

“Tullaghoge is probably the premier archaeological site in Ulster,” said Brian Sloan from the Centre of Archaeological Fieldwork (CAF) from Queen’s University Belfast. “To that end I am very happy to have the opportunity to take a look at this small part of the site and to get an idea of what is underneath the topsoil.

“We’ve been here for four days, and will be surveying the site for about four weeks. Currently we are putting in a number of keyhole trenches below the fort, beside the current car park.

“This is basically an exploratory test to see if anything is likely to be found without a disruption to the site’s history.”

This testing will help inform the best site for new visitor access to the monument, including a car park and interpretation area. Plans for these will then be submitted to DOE Planning for approval.

“The long term plan is obviously to better open up the monument and its history to the public,” Brian told the MAIL. “We have found this site to be very clean so far which suggests it may have been used for cattle. However, we did discover some prehistoric remains near the stream. The flint piece was used to scrape fat from animal skins to make them more malleable, probably during the Bronze Age (around 2000BC).

“We haven’t come across any medieval artefacts - the time of Hugh O’Neill - as yet. Perhaps that means that the human focus was always up on the monument.”

Brian suggested that the site beside the river may have been in continual use from the prehistoric era right through the inhabitation of the O’Neills to when Robert Lindesay was granted the land in 1611.

“Where it is situated beside the river could mean that it would have been the focus of Bronze Age people. You’ve got to remember that to them, the stream was like a motorway. It would have been easy to launch a little canoe here.

“In the trenches you’ve got a build-up of ploughsoil which is evidence of the place having been cultivated over many hundreds of years. But as we go further down we have come across a stone layer and it is just regular stones, compacted in and from that is where we found the little flint scrapper.

“It may be that this suggests a Bronze Age horizon, but we will know more once we get it completely cleaned back. Archaeology is, unfortunately, a very destructive process and that’s why we would try and keep the trenches nice and small. So we are trying to have a little keyhole look into these features.”

The site first came to historical prominence in the 11th century when it was a dynastic centre and inauguration place of the Cenél nEógain (later the O’Neills). It was the residence of the O’Hagans who, with the O’Cahans, performed the inauguration ceremony.

The Lindesays are known to have subsequently lived in the two-story English-style house which had been built up on the rath by the Gaelic inhabitants. However, they later moved across the river to the Loughry Estate.