Ballymoney in the Stone Age
Archaeology is the search for evidence to help us understand how people lived in the past. By studying the evidence, archaeologists can discover the lifestyle of communities that lived long ago.
Mesolithic Period 7,000BC - 4,500BC
The people who lived during the Mesolithic Period were hunter gatherers. Nine thousand years ago, Ireland was a densely wooded island, and the Mesolithic people were able to feed themselves by hunting animals e.g. wild boar or hare, and fishing in the richly stocked rivers and sea. They also trapped birds such as pigeon and duck. In addition, during the Spring and Summer the forests were full of edible fruit, nuts and berries. Food was often stored and this allowed small communities to sustain themselves throughout the year, surviving the cold harsh winters.
It is thought that early man in Ireland lived in primitive huts. By tying together sticks to make a wooden dome shaped frame, the huts were then covered with fur or turf to protect the inhabitants from the weather.
The most common archaeological finds from the Mesolithic Period are the tools that people made from flint. Flint was used to make blades for e.g. axes, arrows or spears. Wood (to make e.g. weapon handles, bowls, food vessels and huts) and fur (to make clothes and line their huts) would also have been widely used by these early people. However these materials have rotted away long ago and no archaeological evidence now exists.
A Mesolithic site has been discovered in the Ballymoney Borough at Drumaheglis, on the banks of the River Bann. A collection of Mesolithic flints were unearthed during excavation work.
Neolithic Period 4,500BC-2,500BC
The people of the Neolithic Period were the first farmers in Ireland. Ireland was one of the last to places in Europe to develop agriculture. In order to plant crops, the forests had to be cut down to clear the ground. This required better tools, as cutting down trees with a brittle flint axe was slow.
In Co. Antrim, the Neolithic people discovered a rock called porcellanite which made excellent axes. Porcellanite is found at Tievebulliagh (near Cushendall) and at Brockley, on Rathlin Island. At these two sites, axe 'factories' were established.
Neolithic people continued to use flint, however they were producing much more sophisticated tools with finely crafted blades.
Farming, which provided a more reliable food supply, allowed Neolithic communities to stay longer in the same place. Families now lived in bigger houses and kept livestock.
A reconstruction of a Neolithic hut at the Ulster History Park, Omagh
The Neolithic people left lasting monuments on the Irish landscape - megalithic tombs. These tombs were built from large boulders that were carried to a chosen location and set into place. The tombs took different forms and archaeologists have classified four kinds: portal (or dolmen), court, passage or wedge tombs.
Inside these stone structures, people buried their dead. It is most likely that only important people were buried in this way. Often they were cremated and buried with ornate pottery vessels.
Associated with the burials, Neolithic people often placed grave goods - important, rare and valuable objects such as elaborate arrowheads, axeheads or carved maceheads. This is believed to be a form of death ritual; gifts to accompany the spirit of those who had died.
Megalithic tombs in the Borough of Ballymoney:
Broad Stone: A Court Tomb. In 1883, local people spent a week replacing the capstone. The tomb collapsed due to 'treasure hunters' mistakenly believing precious artefacts were buried there. The Broad Stone was a place for gatherings in the recent past, for picnics and games. Urns are reported to have been found, although any artefacts that were discovered have been lost.
Dooey’s Cairn: Another Court Tomb, excavated in by archaeologists in 1935 & 1975. Flint tools, portions of urns, three polished axes and stone beads were all found.
Craigs Dolmen: Wrongly assumed to be a dolmen, this is actually a Passage tomb.