Armchair Archaeology: exciting discoveries at Newgrange

Published: 05 Jun 2020

Welcome to the eighth edition of Armchair Archaeology! In this series we look at the famous and the less well-known sites in the Boyne Valley. Since the current restrictions mean we cannot go out and explore in person, let Boyne Valley Tourism take you on a virtual tour of some of our favourite sites.

In the summer of 2018, the Boyne Valley once again captured the attention and indeed the imagination of not only an Irish audience, but a truly global one. We have already looked at how the drought revealed cropmarks of a mysterious monument nicknamed Dronehenge, as well as the amazing discovery of a 5000-year-old passage tomb under the small mansion of Dowth Hall.

Whilst the air was full of activity, so too was the ground as an archaeological excavation was carried out at Newgrange Farm, the first excavation to take place near the world-famous monument for over thirty years. Dublin City University historian Dr Matthew Stout and Boyne Valley archaeologist Dr Geraldine Stout carried out a research dig in July 2018 in a field to the south of the main mound at Newgrange.

(Geophyiscs report of the site: J. M. Leigh Surveys Ltd)

This field had been selected for investigation thanks to some very intriguing geophysical surveys in 2015 by Joanna Leigh (see image above). Long lines and a series of circular features appeared, and it was decided to dig a trench across a section of these lines and circles.

For four weeks volunteers from both the locality and as far away as California joined archaeologists in this investigation, funded by the Royal Irish Academy.

Large pits and ditches were uncovered (see above), and it is believed that these represent a cursus, a name given to many long linear archaeological monuments, which are usually assumed to be prehistoric. Other cursus examples may be seen at Tara and Newgrange (see image below by Copter View: the cursus is to the east of the main mound).

What was its purpose? We don't know for sure, but many argue that these were processional avenues, to bring people to specific parts of the Brú na Bóinne landscape.

 

The fascinating marks of the monument were also recorded from the air, during the National Monument Service’s aerial survey (see below) that took place in the wake of the discovery of Dronehenge.

Later in the summer the exciting news came through; charcoal found at the bottom of one of the ditches was radio-carbon dated to the Neolithic period, most likely between 2632BC and 2472BC.

(Matthew and Geraldine Stout. Photo: Seamus Farrelly)

More details of the dig may be found at the excavation blog.

 

The Boyne Valley is one of the richest heritage landscapes in Europe, if not the world, and welcomes thousands of visitors every year to the monuments of Newgrange and Knowth, accessible through the newly-refurbished Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre. See the website for updated visitor information: currently the grounds of the monuments are scheduled to reopen to visitors on 20th July.

 

We hope you enjoyed this latest edition of Armchair Archaeology and we look forward to welcoming you to the Boyne Valley soon again. In the meantime stay safe and for more information keep up to date with the Boyne Valley newsletter.

 

Further Reading

Ciarán McDonnell, ‘A summer of archaeology: recent discoveries in the Boyne Valley’ in Ríocht na Mídhe: Journal of Meath Archaeological and History Society ,Vol. 30 (2019), pp 1-14.