Members of the public have helped unearth human remains during a public dig at Hillsborough Castle.
Volunteers were recruited to help archaeologists locate the foundations of a medieval church believed to have once stood on the grounds.
Historic Royal Palaces organised the dig as part of plans to transform the royal residence into a tourist attraction with public access to the castle and gardens.
Remarkably, a skeleton thought to date from the 12th Century was discovered on the first day of the excavation last week.
Jonathan Barkley from Northern Archaeological Consultancy Ltd, explained: “It is interesting, the layout suggests an earlier burial style and there are other trenches now producing finds such as coffin handles which the skeleton itself doesn’t seem to have any association with, so there are several phases of burial on the site.”
The remains will be removed for analysis before they are reburied, while the excavation continues until the end of the week.
The hope is teams will find the ruins of the church that first prompted the dig.
“We were hoping to find the remains of a medieval church or post-medieval church that was on the site before it was moved to St Malachy’s in the centre of Hillsborough,” Mr Barkley continued.
“There are some records that there was an early church here but no one has ever had the opportunity to look for it before, this really is the first chance we’re getting to try and establish was the church here and what form did it take and how old it is We are starting to answer a number of those questions.”
Rosanagh Fuller from Historic Royal Palaces She said the artefacts that volunteers have helped to uncover will shape the story-telling for visitors to the castle in future.
“It’s really important for us that the public are involved in this way,” she said.
“We need them to help understand the stories before the Hill family came here, to understand what was happening in Hillsborough village before it became the Georgian village that we know today, whether there was a settlement here, whether there was a medieval church, to give us a wider context as to what was happening here 1,000 years ago.”
UTV's Richard Cull reports from the dig: