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Following further guidelines from the NI Executive, in response to the most recent public health update, our four museums - Ulster Museum, Ulster Folk Museum, Ulster Transport Museum and Ulster American Folk Park - will remain closed for a planned four week period. 

 

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Archaeology

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Archaeology

Can you imagine what Ireland was like for the first people to arrive here? Our archaeology collections offer a window into the past by studying objects, the remains of settlements and monuments to the dead.These tell the story of how people lived, worked and treated their ancestors, from prehistory to medieval times.

Prehistory

Prehistory refers to a time long ago when as far as we know, people could not read or write. To help us understand what life was like at this time, we need to examine objects and look for clues.

There are three broad prehistoric periods, each named after the materials that people made their tools from.

The earliest is the Stone Age that is itself divided into three periods:

  • Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age)
  • Mesolithic 8000 BC—4500 BC (Middle Stone Age)
  • Neolithic 4500 BC—2500 BC (New Stone Age)

We are not sure if Palaeolithic people lived in Ireland, so the story of the first settlers begins in the Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age, some 10,000 years ago. Read more by clicking the Prehistory link below.

Early Medieval Ireland (400—1200AD)

Saint Patrick is believed to have brought Christianity to Ireland. With Christian teaching came writing and for the first time there were accounts of news and events as they happened.

Churches and monasteries became the focus of people’s lives. Most people lived in farms known as raths. In a few places such as Armagh, others began to settle in towns.

Fine metal objects, such as the Clonmore shrine, were designed for use in church ceremonies. This small decorated container was probably made in Armagh in the 7th century. It was used to hold the relics of a saint.

The Vikings shattered this religious way of life. They swept down from Scandinavia landing along the coast. Their shallow longships penetrated far inland by river. They ransacked monasteries and pillaged raths. Nowhere seemed safe.

Eventually they began to settle down, trading and building homes.  Dublin was their main port and many Vikings burial have been found there.

This period of calm did not last long as new wave of invaders were ready to land.

Late Medieval Ireland (1200—1600 AD)

In 1066 the Norman (French) king, William the Conqueror, famously defeated English King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. England became a Norman kingdom.

Just over a century later, in 1169, these Anglo-Normans began an invasion of Ireland. They built strong stone castles as symbols of power to help control the local population. Carrickfergus Castle is a good example of such a stronghold. It made Carrickfergus the most important town and trading port in the north of Ireland.

Their presence was resisted by the older, Gaelic way of life. Fighting would continue between Irish chieftains and English lords for the next five centuries. Typical weapons and armour of this period include helmets, swords, and crossbows.

Despite this ongoing conflict, trade flourished as seen in the greater number and variety of coins. Many were hidden and not recovered until more recent times, often found by accident.

Searchable list of collections

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Pot : food vessel : pygmy cup

Pot : food vessel : pygmy cup

Pot : food vessel : pygmy cup Miniature vase, undecorated; four small perforations occur on the concave neck....

Pot : food vessel : bipartite

Pot : food vessel : bipartite

Pot : food vessel : bipartite Bipartite bowl found lying on its side on the paved floor near the centre of a sub-rectangular cist in a cemetry mound. ...

Pot

Pot

Reconstructed pot...

Pot

Pot

Reconstructed pot...

Pot : food vessel : vase urn

Pot : food vessel : vase urn

Pot : food vessel : vase urn. Grave 1...

Pot : food vessel : vase : tripartite

Pot : food vessel : vase : tripartite

Pot : food vessel : vase : tripartite Vase apparently found with cremated bone. The vase is restored and only one fragment of rim is preserved. The ex...

Ear-ring : bar-twisted

Ear-ring : bar-twisted

Bar-twisted ear-ring with tightly coiled spiral decoration....

Pot : urn : cordoned

Pot : urn : cordoned

Pot : urn : cordoned Two distinct cordons and a well-defined raised ridge encircle this vessel. The rim is flat and simple. (This vessel has been stre...

Pot : food vessel : vase : bipartite

Pot : food vessel : vase : bipartite

Pot : food vessel : vase : bipartite Vase decorated with comb-impressed, false relief and incised ornament....

Pot : food vessel : vase : bipartite

Pot : food vessel : vase : bipartite

Pot : food vessel : vase : bipartite Decorated with incised ornament. The mouth of the pot was distorted before firing - it is now a very irregular ov...

Pot : food vessel : vase : bipartite

Pot : food vessel : vase : bipartite

Pot : food-vessel : vase : bipartite Basal part of vase decorated with incised lines....

Pot : bowl : tripartite

Pot : bowl : tripartite

Pot : bowl : tripartite One of two bowls found a few metres apart in a sandpit, both were inverted and no other finds were reported. This example was ...

Dress-fastener

Dress-fastener

Dress-fastener (crumpled), with a flat strip of metal connecting the two cup-ends....

Pot : urn : vase

Pot : urn : vase

Pot : urn : vase Vase containing some cremated bone. Decoration consists of incised lines, incised or impressed short lines, and roughly triangular im...

Pot : vessel : miniature

Pot : vessel : miniature

Pot : vessel : miniature...

Pot : food vessel : bowl : simple : variant

Pot : food vessel : bowl : simple : variant

Pot : food vessel : bowl : simple : variant Bowl decorated with coarse twisted cord impressions....

Pot : urn : cordoned

Pot : urn : cordoned

Pot : urn : cordoned The vessel has one very slight cordon. The rim is plain and undecorated. Two lines of twisted cord are impressed externally below...

Bracelet

Bracelet

Penannular, circular-sectioned bracelet with two expanded terminals....

Pot : food vessel : bowl : tripartite

Pot : food vessel : bowl : tripartite

Pot : food vessel : bowl : tripartite Bowl is decorated with comb impressions and false relief. A star-shaped motif occurs on the base....

Pot : food vessel : vase : bipartite

Pot : food vessel : vase : bipartite

Pot : food vessel : vase : bipartite. Grave 1, a pit grave, contained two urns (a vase urn and an encrusted urn) and three vases: this vase is profuse...

Pot : food vessel : bowl

Pot : food vessel : bowl

Decorated with fine whipped cord impressions...

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