Archaeologist Audrey Gahan holds the bowl fragment
By Greg McKevitt
Archaeologists have discovered a piece of crockery dating back more than 300 years on a Belfast city centre building site.
The bowl fragment, dated from 1676, was discovered during a survey on a Skipper Street site owned by the Merchant Hotel which is being excavated ahead of a planned extension.
Archaeologist Audrey Gahan said there was great excitement when it was unearthed on Wednesday.
"It's really unusual to find a piece of pottery with a date on it - when you find things like that, people have discarded them in the past so it's usually broken," she said.
"We also found about 30 ceramic eggs - they look like ordinary white eggs, but would have been used as dummies in hen coops to try and encourage the hens to lay."
During the survey in the city's Cathedral Quarter, researchers have also discovered old boundaries of properties which would have been on what is now High Street, believed to date back to the 17th century.
"Because it's in one of the old areas of Belfast, our discoveries are helping us to build up a picture of what was happening from the beginning of when it first became a town," she said.
Much of the excavation work which has unearthed clues to Belfast's past has been driven by new retail developments which have been springing up around the city, and previous digs have unearthed some intriguing findings.
An excavation in 2006 at the Four Corners site at the junction of Waring and Donegall Street uncovered artefacts from the 17th and 18th Century.
Digs in 2004 ahead of the Victoria Square shopping centre construction came up with a section of a 19th Century bridge, offering a fascinating glimpse at Belfast's maritime past.
Ms Gahan said their latest discovery would be sent away for expert analysis, but the hotel would probably be its final resting place.
"The Merchant Hotel is keen on the excavation in general, so I think the ultimate aim is that when they've built the extension they'll have a small display in the lobby of some of the things we've found," she said.