Big Dig to unearth hidden history

The Belfast Hills Partnership along with the National Trust are tooling up for this year's Big Dig on Divis and the Black Mountain.

Thursday, 1st June 2017, 11:32 am
Updated Sunday, 4th June 2017, 9:28 pm
The McCloskey family getting hands on history

Divis and the Black Mountain is looked after and cared for by the National Trust and consists of circa 2,000 acres of upland and grassland heath, rich in biodiversity and archaeological interest located within the Belfast Hills.

This year’s exciting archeological excavation, known as the Big Dig, will be beginning on Monday, June 12 where the dig will seek to unearth buried history on the Mountain.

The focus will be on the stone walled enclosure close to the Barn, attempting to recover evidence of who once lived there and when.

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Porcelanite axe head found in the Belfast Hills

Malachy Conway, archaeologist, for the National Trust, said: “We know that Divis and the Black Mountain hold the prospect of revealing really valuable information about our past, stretching back millennia.

“In choosing one of the stone walled enclosures that survive on the mountain as our site for this years’ dig, we are going to investigate one of the more enigmatic sites on the mountain, one never before excavated.

“While we can’t predict what we will find we have evidence for over 4,000 years’ worth of human activity in the Belfast Hills ranging from worked flint scatters derived from the tool making efforts of our prehistoric ancestors, prehistoric burial cairns and hut sites, 18th and 19th century farmsteads and even remains from our 20th century defence heritage.

“We are delighted at the prospect of this dig and what it may reveal to us about the history of Divis and the Black Mountain, particularly with so many schools, groups and the public getting involved in this community excavation.”

Volunteers Cormac Hamill and Krista Leibensperger giving a hand at last year's archeological dig

Over the two weeks the excavation will host some 16 schools from Belfast city along with youth groups and the general public, led by academics from the centre for archaeological fieldwork at Queen’s University and the Ulster Archaeology Society along with the National Trust.

A free public open day on Saturday, June 17 from 10am to 4pm will enable people of all ages and families to get their hand on history through helping dig a section of the site and viewing any unearthed artefacts.

There will also be an opportunity to have a go at making your own Bronze Age style pot as well as seeing the ancient skill of flint knapping in action.

There will also be an opportunity to meet one of the archaeologists Harry Welsh, who will be leading a free walk and talk event giving a summary of what all has been uncovered during the dig on Thursday, June 22 from 7pm-8.30pm.

Pupils from Oakwood Primary School become archaeologists for the day

Lizzy Pinkerton, scheme manager at the Belfast Hills Partnership, said: “The Divis dig has a strong element of youth empowerment. We have over 460 young people signed up to come along to the dig through schools and youth groups.

“Under the supervision of our expert team they will be excavating the site and helping uncover their local history.

“This is the sixth archaeology dig the Belfast Hills Partnership has undertaken; it’s the excitement, enthusiasm and care that the young people have when getting involved in the digs helps keep us motivated to explore new sites each year.

“It’s these same young people who will help protect our heritage for future generations.”

Porcelanite axe head found in the Belfast Hills

The dig is funded by the Big Lottery as part of Our Bright Future programme which seeks to unleash the potential of young people, so they can make a big, positive impact within their local communities. It is also supported by The Department of Communities’ Historic Environment Division and the Heritage Lottery fund’s Landscape Partnership Scheme for the project.

If you would like to to book a place as a digger on the excavation open day or attended the walk and talk event contact the Belfast Hills Partnership directly on 02890 603 466.

Further event details can be found at

Up-to-date news and analysis of any artifacts found will be posted on Facebook (NationalTrustBelfast & Belfast Hills Partnership) and on Twitter Belfasthills #bigdig during the dig.

Volunteers Cormac Hamill and Krista Leibensperger giving a hand at last year's archeological dig
Pupils from Oakwood Primary School become archaeologists for the day