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Queen’s students discover prehistoric artefacts on grounds of Stranmillis during training dig

Archaeology students at Queen’s University Belfast have discovered prehistoric artefacts which date back to the Middle Neolithic era on the grounds of Stranmillis University College during a training excavation.

The students, who have been on site since 21 June, found prehistoric pottery and flint as well as items associated with the use of Stranmillis House as a residence in the 18th and 19th century.

The exciting discovery provides new provides new information about the earliest inhabitants of the Belfast region. Previous discoveries have given information about prehistoric activity in the landscape – of what is now South Belfast – but this latest discovery has revealed possible settlement activity.

Important location

Ruth Logue from Queen’s University Belfast is Site Director of the excavation. She said: “The Archaeology Department of the School of Natural and Built Environment at Queen’s University Belfast is currently undertaking their annual archaeological excavation module at Stranmillis College, Belfast. 

“Three areas are under investigation in an attempt to tease out the site's story and advise on the presence and survival of archaeological deposits in this area of the city. The dig started with the Level 2 students opening trenches at the rear of Stranmillis House, adjacent to the farmyard and in the wooded area in the south of the estate. Currently the Level 1 students are carrying on the work with another week or so left.

“The areas are all revealing archaeological material ranging from Prehistoric pottery and flint to items associated with the use of Stranmillis House as a residence in the 18th and 19th century. The presence of Neolithic pottery and flint is previously unknown evidence of prehistoric settlement in this area of Belfast and adds to our picture that Stranmillis was an important location for settlement from at least 6,000 years ago.”

She added: “The students have been battling through all extremes of weather - always with an air of excitement of what they might find. The excavation lasts for another week or so and who knows what waits to be revealed.”

Vitally important

Archaeologist Brian Sloan from Queen’s University Belfast said: “This excavation is incredibly valuable to us as it is a chance to investigate an area of Belfast that has seen little development over the last 250 years. It's also a chance to investigate the history of this area and build up a picture of the history and archaeology of Stranmillis.

“The artefacts are vitally important as they are the story. These are items that people have made, used and ultimately lost or thrown away. Particularly with the prehistoric artefacts - somebody 5,000 or 6,000 years ago sat here and made these items. They really add the human touch to archaeology.”

Queen’s University archaeology student, Ryan Montgomery, said: “The Stranmillis College excavation was a fantastic experience for all involved. We were given the opportunity to excavate through three very different scenarios as a group from modern rubble and waste, manicured lawns and forest floors in one compact area.

“Under the instruction of the Centre for Community Archaeology archaeologists we learned essential skills such as recognising changing layers and identifying features within as well as how to record these. The excavation was educational and fun and left us feeling confident to move forward into our careers as archaeologists.”

Wonderful discovery

Principal of Stranmillis University College, Professor Anne Heaslett, said: “At Stranmillis University College, next year marks a major milestone in our history as we celebrate a century of leading innovative practice in education.

“We were therefore delighted to be working with Queen’s University archaeology staff and students to support their field studies and explore a bit more of the history of our stunning campus.

“We are thrilled and excited that the students have been able to unearth such a fascinating insight into life at Stranmillis prior to the College’s establishment. Our congratulations to the students on their wonderful discoveries, which will add a further depth and richness to our own history and is a wonderful example of Queen’s and Stranmillis working in partnership.”

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