It is thought that the burial ground was connected to an early medieval church which once stood on the site.
Archaeologists had been working to uncover Hillsborough Castle’s history and members of the public were invited to join the dig to discover what lies beneath the historic gardens.
Whilst experts will need to undertake further research and analysis of the finds, early indications suggest that the church and burial ground believed to have been located on the site could potentially date back to around 1,000 AD. Notably, the remains of a well preserved young adult female skeleton have been found, thought to have formed part of the burial ground. Other finds include slate roof tiles and nails as well as mortar which archaeologists believe may be signs of a settlement in Hillsborough before the Georgian village that exists today.
Hillsborough Castle, which was built in the 1780s, is currently undergoing a major transformation to introduce new facilities including a dedicated education centre which will open up the site to many more visitors. These discoveries, together with old maps of the area, appear to suggest that people were using the grounds long before the castle and its gardens were created. Over the coming weeks, further research into the finds from the dig will shed more light on this lesser known period of the site’s history.
Rosanagh Fuller, Learning and Engagement Producer for Historic Royal Palaces, said: "We are delighted that over 300 volunteers from the local area have been able to help us uncover more of the site’s history. It has been extremely exciting to discover such important finds dating back so far and we look forward to telling visitors in the future about this lesser known part of the castle's history."
Other events taking place at Hillsborough Castle this summer include Bioblitz on Saturday 13 August, a day of activities in the gardens enabling visitors to participate in creative workshops, take part in a scavenger hunt and learn about bug habitats whilst helping to record environmental findings. On 20 and 21 August, Magical Weekend will feature storytelling in the Throne Room and arts and crafts activities.
Hillsborough Castle is open daily until 4 September; booking is advisable (telephone 0844 482 7777). Group visits are available throughout the year (telephone 028 9268 1376) and the gardens are also open all year round.
For further information please contact the Historic Royal Palaces press office: 020 3166 6166 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Hillsborough Castle is part of a 100 acre estate made up of historic buildings, gardens and parklands in County Down. Historic Royal Palaces’ ambitious £16m project will see the site transformed and made more accessible with new visitor facilities including car parking, a learning centre and retail space opening up the castle and its gardens, ready to welcome 200,000 visitors each year by 2019.