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Brú na Bóinne

Dozens of previously unknown monuments discovered at Newgrange

Newgrange is synonymous with the Winter Solstice where the dawn light illuminates its burial chamber.

Newgrange. The area surveyed included locations both sides of the Boyne River. Ciara Wilkinson Ciara Wilkinson

AROUND 40 PREVIOUSLY unknown monuments have been identified in the Brú na Bóinne area close to Newgrange in the recent weeks as a result of what a leading archaeologist says was an ‘“exceptionally successful,” survey.

Dr Steve Davis of the UCD School of Archaeology, who has worked for over a decade on the Brú na Bóinne landscape, said the monuments appear to range from what are most likely “early Neolithic houses to Neolithic timber enclosures as well as Bronze Age burial monuments and some early medieval farmsteads.”

The area surveyed included locations both sides of the Boyne, within the bend of the Boyne and across from the megalithic tombs at Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth.

Dr Davis said the surveys that revealed these new monuments were carried out as part of collaborative research between UCD School of Archaeology and the Romano-Germanic Commission, Frankfurt.

The research is for the ‘Boyne to Brodgar’ project examining connections between Neolithic sites between the Boyne Valley and the Orkney Islands. The surveys to date have been funded by the German government.

Dr Davis also confirmed that an earlier survey in 2017 revealed what he described as a “spectacular” monument that is aligned with the Winter Solstice sunrise.

It is in a field just metres from the Newgrange passage tomb and he said it is “a key monument that is the largest and most complicated of its type in the world.” 

‘Beyond all recognition’

He has not spoken before about the significance of this particular monument but believes that it probably developed over several phases and comprised a large, rectangular arrangement of wooden posts, which enclosed a timber or stone ‘passage’ and were themselves enclosed by several rings of smaller timber posts.

He believes while unlikely to be a tomb, it  has significant tomb-like features and is 200-300 years younger than Newgrange.

Newgrange is synonymous with the Winter Solstice where the dawn light illuminates the burial chamber and it is arguably the best known of the passage tombs in Brú na Boinne.

Dr Davis said all of the surveys involved the use of “21st century archaeological technologies including satellite-based remote sensing, drones, airborne laser scanning and geophysics”.

“These methods have in the last few years changed our understanding of the Brú na Bóinne landscape beyond all recognition.”

Prof Eszter Bánffy, director of the Romano-Germanic Commission and her colleague Dr. Knut Rassmann have provided the infrastructure to survey hundreds of hectares of land in the core and buffer areas of the World Heritage site Brú na Boinne, for the project.

Their team has been using a large-scale geophysical imaging machine – originally designed to locate unexploded ordnance in the ground – to look for buried remains; it can survey up to 25 hectares a day.

Dr Rassman also said, “We are also in co-operation with German Aerospace Centre and are testing a special radar satellite.”

He said that co-operation has given the team “windows in the Boyne Valley so we have hundreds of photos and radar images which allow us to have an unprecedented overview of the landscape”.

The surveys have only been possible with the consent of the National Monuments Service and support of the landowners as the vast majority are not on State owned land.

Prof Bánffy said they want to find out if the southern side of the Boyne is as interesting as the northern side and, “The first very, very preliminary results are exciting and there are features that need further investigation.”

‘Significant gaps’

This year’s survey data is still being analysed and reported on and Dr Davis said, “there are still significant gaps, most notably in our understanding of settlement, but we are continuing to work to understand these”.

Dr Davis said the results of the surveys for the Boyne to Brodgar project this year, “build on the exceptional summer last year in Brú na Bóinne and continue to demonstrate what a globally significant archaeological landscape we have in Brú na Bóinne”. 

By the time the Boyne to Brodgar project, which began five years ago is complete, more than five square kilometres will have been surveyed.

The Department of Culture Heritage and the Gaeltacht said, ‘Geophysical surveys carried out this year by the organisations named below were consented to by the Minister under Section 2 of the National Monuments (Amendment) Act 1987.’

‘The National Monuments Service awaits receipt of the detailed scientific geophysical survey reports which are to be submitted as a condition of the numerous consents that issued. On receipt of those detailed scientific geophysical survey reports, and only on receipt of those reports, can NMS be in a position to comment.’

It relation to the monument close to Newgrange it said it has received ‘a preliminary report of discovery of this monument but awaits receipt of the detailed scientific geophysical survey report which must be submitted as a condition of the consent that issued.’

Last year more than 70 potential new monuments were reported to the National Monuments Service from June to August during the heatwave.

The most famous was the large henge below Newgrange discovered with a drone.

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