Northern Ireland

Fermanagh crannog dig extended for further three months

Bone comb with incised decoration
Image caption A comb made from bone with an incised decoration was found at the site

Environment Minister Alex Attwood has extended the period in which archaeologists can excavate a crannog in County Fermanagh.

Discoveries made at the crannog, an artificial island in a lake, shed new light on life in medieval Ireland, the Department of the Environment has said.

Excavation was to finish on 30 December but will go on for three more months.

The new A32 Cherrymount link road near Enniskillen is due to be eventually built on top of the crannog.

"The excavation is a once in a century opportunity," said Mr Attwood.

"It will reshape national and international thinking on crannogs and the lives of people stretching back 1,300 years at least.

"What has been found will ultimately lead to a reassessment of life in Ulster in early Christian and medieval times. It is of international importance.

"Given all of that, it is important that we maximise the opportunity to unveil as much of our rich heritage here as possible. That is why I am extending the period in which archaeologists can dig."

Mr Attwood also hopes to hold two further open days for the general public and schools before the excavation ends.

Jewel

The excavation has revealed artefacts that show a snapshot of life in Ireland at least as far back as the 9th century AD.

Among the finds are a wooden bowl that has a cross carved into its base, parts of wooden vessels with interlace decoration, exquisite combs, a large pottery collection, chess-like pieces for games, and timber foundations for dozens of houses.

"A site such as this can teach us so much about our past," said Mr Attwood.

"It is a real archaeological jewel. It further enriches our fascinating history making it another tourist magnet.

"The built and natural heritage will be the biggest part of future increases in tourist numbers and spend, an essential element of our economy and jobs."

Earlier this year, the Institute for Archaeologists (IfA) had raised concerns about "the apparently imminent destruction" of the historical site. They regarded the crannog as too fragile to preserve rather than excavate after the nearby engineering works for the A32 road scheme drained water from the site.

Following a review of progress in July, archaeologists were given more time to recover the information from the site, which has turned out to be of major significance.

The excavation has shown that inhabitants would have had little private space in the small cramped houses that would have been little bigger than a large modern living room. Cooking and sleeping took place in the same space.

Unwelcome guests

Image caption The sub-floor of a circular house

The house walls were insulated with heather and other plants and living conditions were probably cramped but reasonably comfortable for the times.

Humans, however, must have shared their homes with unwelcome guests - 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 skilled at metal working and woodworking, 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 it is assumed they sang and played music though no instruments have been found so far.

They wove their own cloth with wool spun from their own sheep.

So far, it is known that 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 retinue.

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