Discovery sheds new light on Newgrange


New archaeological features have been identified at Newgrange, Co Meath, which indicate that another tomb destroyed last century, which was close to the existing burial mound, may have been even more important.

The new features include a "cursus" monument. These are thought to be enclosed earthen embankments left aside for the spirits of the dead to move around on Earth. But perhaps the most exciting discovery is what appears to be an "avenue of the dead", a pathway at least 10 metres wide outside which are pits that may contain large numbers of cremated remains. This avenue leads to the centre of a mound that once stood a short distance to the east of the surviving Newgrange burial mound where today hundreds of people will gather to mark the winter solstice.

At sunrise the rising sun shines through a specially constructed opening over the entrance to the main chamber of the burial mound and lights up the centre of it. Visitors, however, will see no evidence of the new finds, which have been identified by a geophysical survey for Duchas, the Heritage Service.

A Galway company, Geoarc, has been working on the Newgrange site and in fields close by using electromagnetic equipment that can identify underground features.

According to Mr Victor Buckley, senior archaeologist with Duchas, the underground features showing up in the survey are exciting and controversial.

"The pictures that are emerging from the work already carried out and which will be completed by early spring will throw a whole new light on the Newgrange archaeological landscape," he said.

"The geophysical survey has identified a pathway, which I would call an avenue of the dead, 10 metres wide and 80 metres long which runs, not to the surviving monument, but to the ruins of a tomb which was once east of Newgrange."

His understanding is that this tomb was destroyed in the last century, probably by farming, and probably dates from the third or fourth century BC.

He said there also seemed to be an extensive area of burned material close to the Newgrange monument which could indicate a large area where cremated remains may have been stored or where cremations took place.

Ms Martina McCarthy, of Geoarc, said that most of the new features exposed by the survey she had carried out with Mr Kevin Barton of University College Galway were on lands outside the boundaries of the Duchas site.

When the survey has been completed, archaeologists may decide to excavate the new discoveries next year.