Dig reveals evidence of Troubles in Ulster 6,000 years ago

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The Independent Online

IT'S THE old story - two communities in Londonderry slogging it out, often with the most basic of weapons - fire, stones, pieces of wood - locked in a bloody struggle whose origins are seemingly lost in time. But one particular conflict in the region predates even the sectarian strife of the past few decades - by 6,000 years.

IT'S THE old story - two communities in Londonderry slogging it out, often with the most basic of weapons - fire, stones, pieces of wood - locked in a bloody struggle whose origins are seemingly lost in time. But one particular conflict in the region predates even the sectarian strife of the past few decades - by 6,000 years.

Archaeologists investigating a site at Londonderry have discovered what they believe to be the location of one of Europe's earliest battles. Excavations have unearthed rare evidence of Stone Age warfare - a village that came under ferocious attack some 6,000 years ago.

The find is likely to help transform the way scholars view the evolution of prehistoric society. It will help discredit the long-held belief among many academics that the Neolithic era was a relatively peaceful time, comparatively untainted by the warfare that plagued subsequent periods. Using data from the site, archaeologists hope to piece together how the battle unfolded.

Initial investigations suggest that enemy warriors, possibly from an area to the north of Londonderry, decided to attack the village - probably because its strategic position at the mouth of a river made it a prosperous trade centre.

Its success and wealth seems to have made it a tempting target for warrior bands or rival communities. Certainly, the village had taken the precaution of surrounding itself with a stout wooden palisade.

The firstassault on the settlement almost certainly involved the use of flaming arrows. Archaeologists have tentatively identified the flint arrowheads made by attackers - and the rather more skilfully- made specimens manufactured by the defenders.

Using roughly-knapped arrow heads, made from flint found 20 miles to the north, attacking warriors appear to have produced large numbers of fire arrows which they let loose at the palisade. Sections of this defensive wall burnt down. Meanwhile, other fire arrows appear to have hit the roofs of thatched houses.

Evidence unearthed by archaeologists suggests that the defenders probably won this battle, for they appear to have rebuilt the defences.

The village had a population of up to 70 people, living in up to 10 large, rectangular houses. However, it is likely that, at the time of the attack, dozens more people from the surrounding area took refuge there.

Located on a ridge overlooking a lake, the palisade was 250 yards long. Villagers would have been involved in farming and trade. They obtained the fine flint for arrowheads from 50 miles to the east, and some axes came from the English Lake District.

A small area in the north of the settlement seems to have been a sacred quarter, riddled with pits containing ritually important white quartz, broken hammer stones and deliberately smashed pots.

Excavation director Paul Logue, of the Northern Ireland Executive's Environment and Heritage Service, described the village as "one of the most significant Neolithic sites ever found in the British Isles".

"It confirms our growing suspicion that the Neolithic was not the peaceful, egalitarian society archaeologists used to think it was," he said.

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