An initial archaeological assessment by Irish Archaeological Consultancy Ltd, on behalf of the National Roads Authority, of the route of the new Ballaghaderreen Bypass has provided an opportunity to explore the rich archaeology of this area. Between August and October 2010 archaeologists undertook an examination of the 13.6 km-long route of the bypass and excavated fourteen areas.
The earliest archaeological evidence along the bypass was found in the townland of Toobracken where a series of pits and post-holes were excavated. Some of the pits were interpreted as hearths owing to the presence of scorched clay and charred hazelnuts. Prehistoric pottery was also found at the site dating from the Early Neolithic period (3900 – 3500 BC). Other pits and hearths were identified to the south of this site and these were found to contain a small number of chert and flint items. Another Neolithic site was identified at the eastern end of the bypass. A radiocarbon date of 2460 to 2150 BC was established for this site.
Archaeologists believe that these finds relate to a habitation site located on the edge of a shallow wetland. The stone tools recovered at this site are believed to represents Neolithic/Bronze Age activity.
Archaeologists also excavated seven burnt mounds in the townland of Bockagh located on marginal land between a wetland area and a drier slope to the north. These mounds consisted of kidney-shaped mounds of heat-shattered stone. The stones had been used to heat water in rectangular troughs some of which were wood-lined.
The trough discovered at Bockagh was lined with alder. The same wood together with oak, hazel and holly were used as stakes. It is conceivable that alder was deliberately chosen because of its waterproof qualities. The date range for this site was 1489-1317 BC to 1299-1059 BC. Another timber trough found at Bockagh showed evidence of the use of a number of axeheads to work the wood. This particular site was dated to 1900 – 1740 BC.
Three burnt mounds were also discovered at Bockagh with unlined troughs at two of these. Charcoal from one of the mounds gave a radiocarbon date of 1208-1012 BC. Evidence was also found of flint tool making in this area in later prehistory. A further three toughs and two associated burnt mounds were found in Bockagh. Alder, hazel, willow and oak had been used to line the troughs. The wood was radiocarbon dated 2461 -2209 BC to 1041-911 BC.
A further three burnt mounds were identified close to each other, south of the Lung River one of which was at Banada and the other two at Keelbanada. Two troughs were found beneath the mound at Banada. Planks of oak and ash, two split Alderwoods and stakes of ash and hazel were used to build the main trough at this site which was dated to 2009- 1771 BC.
Archaeologists discovered two shallow pit features containing charcoal at Teevnacreeva. One of the pits contained burnt animal bone and has been radiocarbon dated to AD20-220. What is thought to have been a medieval cooking pit dated AD1048-1218 was found at Toobracken. This pit was 1.4 m in diameter and 0.2 m deep and contained heat-fractured stones and charcoal rich clay. Evidence of a medieval settlement dated to AD1023-1155 was found in the area 600 m to the south east.
The archaeological excavations carried out revealed Bronze Age burnt mounds which would have been located deliberately on the edge of wetlands to ensure access to water. Archaeologists believe that settlement evidence for this period is likely to be located on the better drained surrounding slopes. The better drained land along the route revealed some evidence of Neolithic, Iron Age and early medieval activity and settlement indicating that this area has been occupied since early pre-history.