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Mount Sandel Mesolithic site is situated in Coleraine, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland, just to the east of the iron age Mount Sandel Fort.[1] Between 1973 and 1977, excavations found evidence of an early mesolithic site. Radiocarbon dating of this site was between 7010 to 6490 BC, making Mount Sandel the oldest archaeological site in Ireland. These excavations were led by Professor Peter Woodman. Mount Sandel Mesolithic site is a Scheduled Historic Monument in the townland of Mount Sandel, in Coleraine Borough Council area, at Grid Ref: C8533 3076.[2]



When land was being prepared for a new housing estate, worked flints were brought to the surface and a year later excavations began. In 1973 Peter Woodman and his team of archaeologists began what seemed a routine investigation only to discover – after the carbon-dating of charred hazelnut shells – that human beings had dwelt here between 7000 and 6,500 BC. The generally accepted date of the arrival of people in Ireland had been put back by more than a thousand years. In an artificially enlarged hollow the remains of four large huts were found.[3]

The excavations explored a relatively large area of almost 700m and while traces of activity, such as pits and hearths were scattered over the site, the most significant discovery was an occupation area (10m x 7m) containing hut remains. Mount Sandel is situated on a rise overlooking the west bank of the River Bann. The river would have been a source of salmon and eels for the early inhabitants of the area. This diet would have been supplemented by wild pigs and hares.

Woodman found evidence of up to seven structures, at least four of which may represent buildings. Six of the structures are circular huts of 6m (about 19ft) across, with a central interior hearth. The seventh structure is smaller, only 3m in diameter (about 9ft). The huts were made of bent saplings, inserted into the ground in a circle, and then covered over, probably with thatch. In the centre of the huts a scooped out hollow in the ground served as a fireplace.[4]

The 1973 excavations found that there were round huts about 6m across with central hearths. The hearths and pits contained fish bones, bird bones and hazel nut shell. Fragments of mammal bones were comparatively rare. The occupation layers and the pits also contained very large quantities of Mesolithic implements, notably several hundred microliths, some axes and a fragment of a bone point.[5] During excavations in 1974, the nearly complete plan of a hut was recovered. This was of a similar type to those found during 1973, circular with a central hearth and about 6m across, although not set in a slight hollow like the previous examples. Some faunal remains were recovered but the pits were not as rich as those found earlier, although large numbers of geometric microliths, occasional core and flake axes were recovered.[6]

Radiocarbon dates at the site show that Mount Sandel is one of the earliest human occupations in Ireland, first occupied around 7000 BC. Stone tools recovered from the site include a huge variety of microliths (tiny stone flakes and tools), including flint axes, needles, scalene triangle-shaped microliths, pick-like tools, backed blades and a few hide scrapers. Although preservation at the site was not very good, one hearth included some bone fragments and hazel nuts. A series of marks on the ground are interpreted as a fish-drying rack, and other diet items may have been eel, mackerel, red deer, game birds, wild pig, shellfish, and an occasional seal. The site may have been occupied year-round, but if so, the settlement was tiny, including no more than fifteen people at a time, which is quite small for a group subsisting on hunting and gathering. By 6000 BC, Mount Sandel was abandoned to later generations.[1] This is classified as an Early Mesolithic site.[4]

Flint had to be carried from as far away as the beaches of Portrush in County Antrim and Downhill in County Londonderry. At a tool working area to the west of the hollow, flint cores were roughed out and fashioned into picks and axes, while the smaller blades struck from them were shaped into knives, arrowheads, hide scrapers, awls and harpoon flakes. One axe had traces of red ochre on its surface, which gives a hint that these people painted themselves on ceremonial occasions.[3]


The artefacts from Mount Sandel, the oldest settlement site in Ireland, excavated in the 1970s, are in the Ulster Museum. During the excavation circular houses, hearths, rubbish and storages pits, and flint-working areas were discovered. These first hunter-gatherers used very distinct stone tools called microliths. Other types of tools included flint and stone.[7] Flint waste and implements were abundant on the site, totalling up to 44,386 artefacts, 3.3% of them being finished or retouched tools.[8]


See also


  1. ^ a b "Mount Sandel, Ireland". Archaeology. Retrieved 2007-12-02.  
  2. ^ "Mount Sandel Mesolithic settlement site". Environment and Heritage Service NI. Retrieved 2007-12-02.  
  3. ^ a b "A Short History of Ireland". BBC. Retrieved 2007-12-02.  
  4. ^ a b "Mesolithic". Ballybeg - Guide to Archaeology of Ireland. Retrieved 2007-12-01.  
  5. ^ "Mount sandel 1973". Retrieved 2007-12-02.  
  6. ^ "Mount Sandel 1974". Retrieved 2007-12-02.  
  7. ^ "Early Mesolithic (8000 - 6000 BC)". Ulster Museum. Retrieved 2007-12-01.  
  8. ^ O'Sullivan, Aidan & Breen, Colin (2007). Maritime Ireland. An Archaeology of Coastal Communities. Stroud: Tempus. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-7524-2509-2.  
  9. ^ Cullen, Pamela V., "A Stranger in Blood: The Case Files on Dr John Bodkin Adams", London, Elliott & Thompson, 2006, ISBN 1-904027-19-9


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