Pre-Historic Farm, Belderrig in Co. Mayo

Excavations were begun at Belderrig in 1971 to look for traces of tillage farming as a contrast to the prehistoric pasture farming investigated previously at Céide Fields.

The Belderrig site has been largely denuded of bog as a result of turf cutting in recent times but originally the bog would have stood one or two metres high over the whole area.

The pre-bog wall and the encasing bog can be seen intact. The destroyed and scattered nature of the walls is due largely to the stones having been removed in recent times since the turf was cut away. The stump of an old pine tree close to the wall has its roots resting on the mineral soil but not penetrating into it. The tree therefore grew in a thin layer of bog.

In contrast the wall is definitely on the pre-bog surface and must be earlier than the bog. A block of this pine tree has been dated by the radiocarbon method to around 2900 BC.

Allowing some time for the thin growth of bog in which the tree grew, it is likely that the bog began to grow here by 3000 BC at the latest and therefore the walls must be those of a farm laid out over five thousand years ago.

This period is referred to as the Neolithic or New Stone Age, a period when people engaged in farming but had no knowledge of metalworking. The finds of flint implements, a stone axe and pottery from Belderrig can be closely compared with finds from other Neolithic sites in Ireland.

By Carmel Murphy

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