A new and significant passage tomb cemetery dating back some 5,500 years has been discovered beside Dowth Hall in County Meath, Ireland. The find was made during an excavation carried out by the agri-technology company Devenish in partnership with the School of Archaeology at University College Dublin. Quoted in an article on the UCD website, Dr Clíodhna Ní Lionáin, Devenish’s lead archaeologist for the project, said “For the archaeologists involved in this discovery, it is truly the find of a lifetime.”
The cemetery lies within the Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site about 40km north of Dublin, which also contains the famous Newgrange passage grave. To date two burial chambers have been discovered within the western part of the main passage tomb. A large stone cairn (c.40m diameter) was raised over the tomb and the six kerbstones identified so far would have formed part of a ring of stones that followed the cairn perimeter. One kerbstone is heavily decorated with Neolithic carvings and represents one of the most impressive discoveries of megalithic art in Ireland for decades. According to Dr Steve Davis of the UCD School of Archaeology “This is the most significant megalithic find in Ireland in the last 50 years … and highlights what a globally significant place this is.”
Brú na Bóinne contains Europe’s largest and most important concentration of prehistoric megalithic art. The area has been a centre of human settlement for at least 6,000 years, but the major structures date to the Neolithic period around 5,000 years ago. The site is a complex of burial mounds, chamber tombs, standing stones, henges and other prehistoric enclosures, some from as early as the 35th century BC – 32nd century BC. The site thus predates the Egyptian pyramids.
There are six distinct heritage landscapes on the land owned by Devenish at Dowth dating from 5,500 years ago – Middle Neolithic passage tombs, a Late Neolithic henge and associated structures, a Bronze Age enclosure, at least two high-status Early Medieval enclosures, Late Medieval settlements and the demesne landscape created around Dowth Hall in the 1700s. Over the last five years UDC, in collaboration with colleagues from the German Archaeological Institute, have made other significant finds which have increased the number of recorded monuments on the site from eight to thirteen.
Text Alun Harvey