Hundreds flock to see crannog where our ancestors lived 1,000 years ago

Published: 2 Dec 2012 12:11

Hundreds of people yesterday (Saturday) took the opportunity to see how their ancestors lived 1,000 years ago when the doors of the Drumclay Crannog were thrown open to the public.

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The ancient dwelling beside the new Cherrymount Link Road in Enniskillen has been described as being of "international significance" and is "re-writing Ireland's medieval history".

Guided tours of the the site began with a series of introductory talks at Fermanagh County Museum.

The archaeological excavation of the crannog has revealed a huge treasure trove of artefacts found which show a "snap-shot" of life in Ireland from the 17th Century back as far as, at least, to the 9th Century, maybe even centuries earlier. Some of the most striking finds are a wooden bowl that has a cross carved into its base, a unique find from an excavation in Ireland, parts of wooden vessels with interlace decoration, and exquisite combs made from antler and bone, status symbols of their day that date to between 1,000 and 1,100 AD. And the site continues to reveal finds that have stunned archaeologists.

Other finds include what is believed to be the largest collection of pottery from a crannog in Northern Ireland, as well as ornaments of iron, bronze and bone. As the site is waterlogged, a huge volume of wooden remains have been found, from gaming "chess like" pieces to drinking cups right through to the timber foundations of dozens of houses. Parts of at least two different log boats have been discovered, and a wooden oar - from deposits several centuries older than the boats - has also been found. Some of the combs are similar to ones found in Dublin and York that date to Viking times. Archaeologists have also discovered leather shoes and agricultural equipment, along with knives and highly decorated dress pins.

The crannog reveals that our ancestors lived in houses that would have been little bigger than a large modern living room, cooking and sleeping in the same space. The house walls were insulated with heather and other plants. Living conditions were probably cramped, but reasonably comfortable for their time, though the humans must have shared their homes with lots of unwelcome guests - abundant bugs and parasites of all kinds, and the surrounding lake must have resulted in damp floors from time to time. The small houses were very cramped, with little private space for the people living there. 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 very skilled at metal working and woodworkers - 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 we can assume they sang and played music though no instruments have been found so far. They wove their own cloth, having spun the wool from their own sheep. So far we know that the crannog was occupied from at least 900 AD to 1,600 AD, 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.

The archaeological excavation of the site is currently scheduled to end on December 30, 2012.

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