A MOUNTAIN that was once crowned by a large military base is to undergo what may be its first excavation of modern times.
Large parts of Divis Mountain in south west Belfast had been off limits for decades because the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had a firing range and transmitter station there.
But now the National Trust owns the land, and says it is rich with prehistoric artefacts – which it intends to dig up with the help of the community at large.
The news coincides with the opening of a new trail on the mountain, allowing easier access to the summit.
In 2005 the trust acquired about 2,000 acres of land on Divis Mountain, Black Mountain and Altigarron. Around 1,400 acres of that were owned by the MoD. Before the land was acquired, there were about six known historic sites such as ancient graves. After the Trust moved in, it discovered about 200.
Malachy Conway, the National Trust’s archaeologist, said: “(The MoD) effectively levelled everything on the site and put their base in. But what preceded that was a very rich landscape which we now realise is covered with historic remains.”
He said the last excavation on the mountain that he knew of was by an amateur in the 19th century, who found a roughly 4,000-year-old pottery vessel at an ancient grave.
“Most of our uplands are covered with burial monuments,” he said. “Whenever you’re burying on a mountain you’re basically burying as close as possible to the sky.”
That site became known as Yellow Jack’s Cairn.
The section that is now going to be excavated is near The Long Barn, which is the National Trust’s welcome centre in the area.
It is the future site of a car park, and the Trust wants to dig up what artefacts it can before it is used for this purpose.
It is believed that the area was a flint tool chipping site; also known as ‘knapping sites’.
“It’s where prehistoric man sat down with prehistoric material – which is flint – and started making it into tools,” said Mr Conway. “It’s the first excavation we’re aware of that has been done on Divis in modern times.”
Dr Lizzy Pinkerton, scheme manager for the Belfast Hills Partnership, said that there were already about 16 schools signed up to help on the dig.
Last year, a similar excavation on Cave Hill involved about 600 participants. This time, she says, there could be twice as many involved. She said: “We’d be surprised if we don’t find anything, because the site is so rich in history. We want to get the general public involved, to be involved in their own ‘time team’ experience.”
For more information on taking part in the dig, call 028 9060 3466.
Meanwhile, the new path from Tipperary Road to Divis Mountain summit has views across the nine counties of Ulster.