To mark the winter solstice when the rising sun illuminates the burial chamber of the Great Passage Tomb of Newgrange, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has released further details of the archaeological discoveries made this year within the World Heritage Site of Brú na Bóinne, close to Newgrange Passage Tomb.
Josepha Madigan, Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, has hailed the new information being released: “This new information is a graphic illustration of the extent and density of ritual and ceremonial sites associated with the Newgrange Passage Tomb. As we celebrate this week the phenomenon of the winter solstice sunrise illuminating the burial chamber of the passage tomb at Newgrange, this stunning new archaeological information provides fresh, spectacular and unique insights into the origins and development of the Neolithic landscape and society.”
During the very dry summer of 2018, remarkable details of stunning archaeological monuments became visible for the first time as cropmarks in the parched fields of the River Boyne floodplain. The detail of these ancient monuments was unprecedented, offering a rarely seen insight into prehistoric ritual and architecture.
In an Interim Report released today (https://www.archaeology.ie/news/bru-na-boinne-aerial-survey), the National Monuments Service has revealed the results of its analysis of aerial reconnaissance it carried out following the initial discoveries in July, and which received global attention at the time. The report details new information on the significant discoveries, informed by an analysis of high resolution aerial photography.
The new information reinforces the remarkable level of ceremonial and ritual use of the landscape around Newgrange during the prehistoric period up to 5,000 years. Immense enclosures of timber uprights and large ceremonial henges have been identified on the floodplain in the shadow of Newgrange passage tomb. These monuments, visible only fleetingly as cropmarks during the dry summer, clearly form a deliberately structured and ritual landscape of great significance.
The discoveries raise many questions and it is the Department’s intention that the release of this information will provide a basis for a solid and refreshed research framework to be implemented in coming years in line with the aims of the Brú na Bóinne UNESCO Management Plan.
Minister Madigan added: “These remarkable archaeological discoveries are a significant reinforcement of the UNESCO World Heritage inscription and will transform our understanding of Brú na Bóinne. It is wonderful new knowledge for the OPW’s Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre, which is being redeveloped with the support of my Department and Fáilte Ireland which will let us tell the ancient story of this wonderful landscape to an international audience and help attract an increased numbers of tourists to the area, contributing to the local economy.”
“These discoveries will inspire much interest and will attract further research and interpretation. My Department looks forward to working with the landowners and academic institutes and researchers in the years ahead on ensuring the secrets these sites still hold are revealed.”
Image 1 - The ritual landscape of Newgrange: A GIS generated terrain model of the Newgrange flood plain at Brú na Bóinne showing the principal archaeological sites from the 2018 aerial survey. The Great Passage Tomb of Newgrange at bottom right of photo, constructed around 3200BC, commands a view of the floodplain to the south, which in the later Neolithic period from c.2900 BC became an intense focus for ceremonial and ritual gathering. The features marked in yellow include those identified from aerial surveys carried out in summer 2018 during the very dry period when cropmarks became visible indicating the presence of archaeological monuments. The features include large ceremonial enclosures or henges, once formed by circles of timber posts, as well as mortuary enclosures and an immense timber palisade wall which might have once encircled Newgrange passage tomb. Above image © DCHG; base image © Bluesky International Ltd; open source LiDAR data from https://dcenr.maps.arcgis.com/
Image 2 - The Geometric Henge: Discovered by Anthony Murphy and Ken Williams in July, subsequent analysis and mapping of the cropmark features confirms a remarkable and sophisticated geometric design. Two concentric rings of post-holes surround the inner enclosure formed by a series of segmented ditches. An elaborate series of ditches and post holes in a rectangular structure can be seen on the perimeter to left of photo while the projection at the right is likely to mark an entrance feature.
Image 3 and 4 - Ritual Architecture: Two large prehistoric henges depicted as cropmarks last July. Their location and relation between each other and other monuments on the floodplain indicates a deliberate ritual focus across the landscape in the shadow of Newgrange passage tomb. A third previously unknown henge has been identified between the two clearly visible ones, further adding to the significance of this landscape. The remarkable clarity of the cropmarks allows detailed analysis of the architecture of these ceremonial sites which likely date to the Late Neolithic period.
Image 5 - Great Timber Palisade: Analysis of aerial photographs by the Department has confirmed that arcs of postholes seen sweeping across the cropped field for a distance of over 900m form an immense series of timber palisade walls. Inside this palisade wall , a four poster mortuary structure dates to the late Neolithic period and would have been used inn burial rituals. The mortuary enclosure was approached by a post-lined avenue, also visible as cropmarks, and WAS surrounded by an outer enclosure consisting of an earthen bank and timber palisade, almost 100m in diameter.