Archaeologists have won a last minute reprieve and been granted more time to excavate the Drumclay Crannog beside the new Cherrymount Link Road in Enniskillen.

The site has been described as being "of international importance" and is "re-writing the history books" in terms of how our ancestors lived over 1,000 years ago.

A team of up to 30 archaeologists has been working on the site since June. The excavation was due to finish by this weekend and the bulldozers to start rolling again on the construction of the new link road on Monday morning.

However, yesterday (Thursday) Environment Minister Alex Attwood granted the archaeologists another three months, until the beginning of March.

Explaining his decision he said: "The excavation is a once in a century opportunity. It will reshape national and international thinking on crannogs and the lives of people stretching back 1,300 years at least. A unique moment requires a unique approach. That is why the dig is being extended another three months.

"This is the first substantial, scientific excavation of a crannog in Northern Ireland. 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. That is why I held an open day for the public to visit the site, and I hope to hold further open days for the general public and local schools before the end of the excavation," he added.

The excavation of the crannog - an artificial island in a lake - has revealed a huge treasure trove of artefacts which provide a "snap-shot" of life in Ireland back at least as far as the 9th century AD. The most striking finds are a unique 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.

Mr. Attwood said he was sure the granting of extra time for the dig would be welcomed.

"A site such as this can teach us so much about our past," he stated. "It is a real archeological 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." The extension to the excavation time will further delay the opening of the section of the Cherrymount Link between the Cherrymount Roundabout and Coa Road.