The Neolithic period (4500-2500 BC) marks both a technological and economical change throughout Ireland. New settlers arrived bringing with them the first domesticated plants (wheat & barley) and animals (sheep, goats and cows) to these shores. This period stands in stark contrast to the preceding Mesolithic which was a largely mobile hunter gatherer lifestyle to a more sedentary agricultural one. Today the megalithic monuments of these early farmers are the most visible surviving remains; Court Tombs, Passage Tombs and Portal Dolmens, representing the funerary and ritual monuments of these Neolithic peoples. Other sites do exist, mainly as earthwork remains such as henge monuments which were large earthen enclosures used for ritual and tribal gatherings.

The majority of Neolithic settlement sites however have only been discovered through excavation. Single or groups of rectangular houses of timber construction have been found in areas of well-drained soils, including areas that were later covered in bog. The quality of the land is a most important factor in settlement location and one of the most diagnostic tools of this period is the polished stone axe, used no doubt to clear stands of trees to open the landscape for farming and to use the subsequent felled wood in building houses, settlements and dug-out boats.

Many artefacts including polished stone axes have been recovered from the following sites around the shores of Lough Neagh: The Creagh and Toome;

Main; Shane’s Castle; Dungonnell townland; Rams Island; Deer Park/Lady Bay; near Selshan harbour; Kilmore townland and Coney Island. A leaf-shaped arrowhead has recently been recovered from a newly identified site at Traad Point on the northwestern shore. Occupation sites have been identified through excavation at both Shane’s Castle (1972) and at Langford Lodge (1960) where investigation of early Christian ráths revealed earlier Neolithic activity.  Excavations on Coney Island between 1962-4 revealed Neolithic features including a short ditch, occupation layers and a series of pits and hollows all of which contained burnt flints and flint knapping debris. (Image: Site plan and artefacts recovered from Langford Lodge. Copyright Ulster Journal of Archaeology.)

The Neolithic period also saw the first use of pottery in Ireland. These hand made posts were first plain and round bottomed bowls which over the period developed in form to became more elaborately decorated; fragments of such pottery were recovered from the Neolithic occupation layers at Coney Island, Newferry, Shane’s Castle and Langford Lodge. The stone tool industry was also a revolution compared to the Mesolithic period. For the Neolithic there is the ubiquitous flint scraper, a simple tool for many purposes but primarily for cleaning and working hides and skin and finely pressure flaked arrowheads and javelin points for hunting and intertribal warfare. Indeed the Neolithic period provides the first evidence for warfare or conflict in Ireland, and not as a means to eradicate the native Mesolithic people, who were most likely largely acculturated to the new settled lifestyle, but as inter-tribal conflict between groups of settled farmers protecting their land and economy. The Neolithic also provides clear evidence for trade between Ireland and Britain, most vividly seen through the stone axe trade.

Know occupation sites of Neolithic date:

Parish Townland SMR No. Description Grid Ref.
Killead Parish Gartree ANT 058:017 Neolithic occupation site underlying later Early Christian Rath J09407521
Tartarghan Coney Island ARM 002:002 Neolithic occupation site within multi-period site H9384064070
Drummaul Shane’s Castle Neolithic occupation site underlying later Early Christian Rath J122887