Bronze Age

The Bronze Age (2500BC-300 BC) is, as the name suggests, characterised by the extensive use of metals, particularly copper, tin (bronze), lead and gold. The period is normally divided into two broad sub-periods based on development of artefacts types, the Early Bronze Age (2500-1550 BC) and Later Bronze Age (1550-300 BC) and activity relating to both periods have been uncovered on Coney Island (see below). It is uncertain whether the introduction of metal working to Ireland came about through the arrival of a new people, commonly referred to as ‘Beaker People’, but it is certain that the skills including the mining and production of tools, weapons and ornaments was not one suddenly learnt and may have grown and developed in Ireland through contact with other peoples who had experience of this technology from Britain or Atlantic Europe. Artefacts of Late Bronze Age date recovered from Lough Neagh include one riveted spearhead from Derrymacash townland; one bronze dagger from Duckingstool Point;  one bronze socketed axe head from Maghery/River Blackwater; one sword from Maghery; and a palstave axe from the Creagh near Toome.

(Image: Bronze socked axe-head recovered fromRiver Blackwater, at  Maghery. Copyright Ulster Journal of Archaeology.)

The Irish Bronze Age was an agricultural economy and the mainly round houses of its domestic settlements have frequently been discovered through excavation. These can turn up singularly or in small groups or clusters, but within the last ten years a remarkable unenclosed ‘village’ of round houses was discovered to the south of Portrush. The main visible remains of this period are however the funerary and ritual monuments including its standing stones, stone circles, wedge tombs and round burial cairns, frequently called tumulus; an uncisted urn burial was discovered during ploughing in the townland of Creggan on the northern shore of Lough Neagh in the 19th century. Along with the excavated remains of houses, other settlement sites do survive above ground as large embanked and ditched enclosures, commonly referred to as hillforts. The most famous of these forts are Emain Macha and Haughey’s Fort to the west of Armagh, but others are known right across Ireland.

Other curious sites that exist include the fulachta fiadh, usually surviving as horse-shoe shaped mounds of fire cracked stones which are associated with ancient cooking places or saunas. Alongside metal tools and weapons, hand-made pottery was still important, though the vessels adopted a flat base and became more vase-like, frequently heavily ornamented. These pots were used for cooking, storage and also for burial, both as containers for food and offerings for the afterlife, and also as the containers for the burnt remains of the deceased. At Coney Island on the southern shore of Lough Neagh, excavation between 1962-4 Early Bronze Age activity consisted of hollows and pits some of which contained pottery fragments and the remains of two possible rectangular structures cutting through earlier Mesolithic activity. Above this were a series of occupation layers and a gully which contained fragments of flat base coarse ware of Late Bronze Age date.

Known sites of Bronze Age date:

Parish Townland SMR No. Description Grid Ref.
Tartarghan Coney Island ARM 002:002 Bronze Age occupation site within multi-period site H9384064070
Duneane Creddan ANT 049:076 Uncisted urn burial J0625087510