HUGE temple, once surrounded by about 300 huge posts made from
an entire oak forest, has been discovered directly beneath the
Hill of Tara in Co Meath. Conor Newman, an archaeology lecturer
at NUI Galway, said the discovery at the ancient site made sense
of the positioning of other graves and monuments in the area.
Newman, who has been working on the Hill of Tara under the State-funded
Discovery Programme since 1992, was delighted by the find. "It
fills a very important place in the jigsaw because it allows us
to make sense of the distribution of other monuments all around
Discovery Programme, set up under the auspices of the Heritage
Council, carried out a survey of the Hill of Tara between 1992
and 1996 when Mr Newman was director.
Mr Newman moved to Galway he continued to be involved in the project
Using sophisticated technology, he and his team of experts mapped
what was underground. The work was slow and tedious because it
yielded such a huge amount of information.
they uncovered eventually at the crown of the hill was a huge,
oval-shaped monument measuring about 170 metres at its widest
point. Around it are 300 post holes measuring two metres wide,
indicating a massive human effort involved in the construction.
think it probably dates from 2500 to 2300BC and still had a big
physical presence even after the posts were taken out or rotted,"
Mr Newman said.
the monument is located just below the ground's surface, there
are no plans yet to dig it out.
was a time when excavation was the first step in archaeological
research. That's not the case now because it really is the systematic
destruction of a monument. When you are dealing with something
as important as the Hill of Tara, you don't do something like
Newman reckons they will be able to learn more about the site
from the data before the ground itself is finally excavated. "What
we have is the clearest underground image I have ever seen. This
one jumps off the page."
Newman is concerned about a planned extension of the N3 motorway
from Clonee to just north of Kells. One of the sections from Dunshaughlin
to Navan runs along the east side of the Hill of Tara.
have absolutely no doubt that they will be destroying dozens of
monuments connected to Tara." See more about the motorway
threat to Tara.
100 new monuments discovered at Hill of Tara
least 100 new monuments have been discovered on the Hill of Tara,
thanks to the deployment of non-invasive exploratory techniques.
Geophyscial survey allows archaeologists to record the magnetic
properties or electrical resistance of the soil, which is permanently
altered by human activity, therefore proving that people once
inhabited the area. For example, a bonfire or a burial will permanently
enhance the magnetism of the soil around it. Similarly, a buried
wall will act as a barrier to the movement of electric current
passed through the soil and therefore significantly increases
its electrical resistance.
Conor Newman and Mr Joe Fenwick of the Department of Archaeology
at NUI, Galway and the Discovery Programme, which is funded by
the Heritage Council, have been researching Tara since 1992. The
earliest monuments at Tara date from around 4000 BC. Close to
30 monuments had been recorded prior to the deployment of geophysical
survey, which has greatly aided the research process and facilitated
the discovery of approximately 100 additional monuments.
three field seasons since 1999, the team at Galway has increased
the geophysical survey area on the Hill of Tara by more than 13
hectares, making this by far the most extensive geophysical survey
ever undertaken in Ireland. Plans are in place to survey the rest
of the state-owned part of Tara in the next few years.
host of new and interesting features have been revealed in the
work so far. One of the most spectacular finds is a huge oval
enclosure, equivalent to the size of Croke Park (170m North to
South), which is believed to date from around 2500 BC. Referred
to as a henge (see illustration), it comprises a 4m wide ditch,
possibly up to 3m deep, on either side of which are great 2m wide
pits. These pits probably held around 300 wooden poles between
them. This oval enclosure encircles Ráith na Senad or Rath
of the Synods and takes in the whole of the present day churchyard.
It also includes a passage tomb known as the mound of the hostages.
Like most of the monuments on Tara this is a temple or sacred
compound of some sort.
full report on this monument and others found in the course of
the survey has just been published in the 6th volume of the Discovery
Programme Reports and is available from the Discovery Programme
and the Royal Irish Academy. The Discovery Programme has produced
a detailed map of all of the monuments on the Hill of Tara using
a combination of the geophysical survey finds and topography.
topography map is in digital format, which means it is fully interactive.
It can be interrogated and manipulated in order to reveal features
that are otherwise barely visible. These techniques have confirmed
that many of the monuments built on the Hill of Tara incorporated
older monuments into their fabric. This allowed some of the ritual
and historical importance associated with the older monument to
be included in the new structure.
new monument discovered at Tara adds to our understanding of the
development of the complex," said Mr Newman. "For the
most part, the monument builders of each generation observed,
preserved and accommodated all of the older ones in a way that
contributed positively and sensitively to the developing authority
of Tara as a place apart," he added.
to half of the State-owned land on the Hill of Tara has been examined
using geophysical survey so far and plans are in place to continue
with this research and to survey the rest of the hill. However,
much concern has arisen lately about the proposed route of the
M3 motorway, which if approved, will pass right along the
eastern foot of the Hill of Tara, crossing an area intimately
connected with the great royal complex. This area also boasts
an impressive concentration of archaeological monuments. "It
is a reckless dereliction of our role as guardians of our common
cultural heritage to drive a motorway through it," said Mr
Newman. "If you disassociate a society from its past, it
becomes rootless. Tara is a national treasure and a massive tourist
attraction for Co. Meath. It should be managed not simply as a
hilltop site but rather as a cultural landscape, just has been
the case with places like the Boyne
Valley," he added.