A BURIAL capstone unearthed during works at the site of a building project in Ballyshannon could date from the Bronze Age and may be up to 4,000 years old.

The Bronze Age covers the era from 4,000- 3,500BC, making this find potentially very significant.

The sandstone capstone is 2.5 metres long and 1.5 metres wide, and samples of rock art in the form of circles are visible on the capstone. Rock art of this kind and boulder burials are thought to be Bronze Age in date.

The capstone was unearthed roughly 200 metres from the modern-day north bank of the river Erne in Ballyshannon as work gets under way on a massive multi-million euro community hospital project.

Up until the Erne Hydro Electric Scheme officially opened in 1952, the river Erne was a much broader river at the town and its banks would have been much closer to where this find was made.

Archaeological investigations are at a very early stage. A source said: “They [archaeologists] are at the discovery stage here and it is too soon to say how significant the find is.”

Archaeological works on the site, carried out three years ago as part of required pre-planning on a project of this scale, flagged what was described as a “potentially significant” burial site.

It was identified as a possible boulder burial site during testing works carried out by Fadó Archaeology in 2017.

The National Monuments Service and National Museum were made aware of the unearthing of the capstone on Monday, August 24, and a team of five archaeologists from Fadó Archaeology are excavating the site where the capstone was unearthed, along with a wider area close to it where what appear to be boulder burial stones have been located.

On Friday last (August 28), the capstone was carefully removed from the site for further examination and analysis.

The area where the capstone was found is close to the local St Catherine’s national school and an existing HSE health centre and office complex facility. It lies approximately 200 metres from the modern-day northern bank of the Erne river.

The area where the archaeologists have been working has, in recent years, been used as a community allotment.

Further south of this area a new link road is being created as part of the development and this work continued uninterrupted all week.

A spokesperson for the HSE said the archaeological work had not delayed the overall project, which would continue on schedule and would not be delayed.

The earth removal work that started last week is part of a €21 million community hospital project at the existing Sheil Hospital.

If this find is as important as has been suggested, it will add to the already fascinating past of this part of the river Erne.

During test excavations in 2001 for the N15 Bundoran-Ballyshannon bypass, human skeletal remains were unearthed in a green field on the outskirts of Ballyshannon, in the townland of Ballyhanna.

Subsequent excavation on the site revealed the foundations of a medieval church and associated cemetery on the south bank of the river Erne. The Ballyhanna site is thought to date from between 1100-1400 AD.

In a 2015 publication by Donegal County Council in relation to the town’s Local Area Plan, there is a reference to evidence of human settlement in the town and surroundings area dating even further back than this find to the Neolithic Period.

The publication stated: “The town is an area of intense archaeological and historical significance, and has been designated as both a historic and heritage town.

"As early as the Neolithic Period (4000 - 2500BC), there is evidence of human settlement and ritual activity has been discovered within the town and wider hinterlands.”