Google Earth images show 50 undiscovered ancient monuments

Photographs taken during summer drought highlight archaeological sites

Up to fifty previously undiscovered archaeological monuments have been unearthed through a series of Google Earth images taken during the 2018 summer drought.

Dozens of monuments, some dating back 4,000 years, have appeared in a series of photographs published online by the Google Earth mapping app which were taken at the end of June 2018.

Author and photographer Anthony Murphy, who has been photographing ancient monuments across Ireland for more than 20 years, said he had counted between 40-50 sites in the photographs along with another 50 that had previously been chronicled through images from the 1960s and 70s.

Mr Murphy found that most of the monuments were located in crop fields in the tillage-rich areas of Meath, Dublin, Kildare, Carlow, Wicklow, Laois and Kilkenny. As the sites have no surface trace, he noted that most farmers and landowners would be unaware the monuments exist. Many became visible during the drought conditions when crops were starved of moisture.


He said the soil growing from the ditches of the archaeological features had retained a small amount of moisture and as a result grew greener and healthier grass than the surrounding soil. “From the air, what you get is a contrast between the healthier and less healthy crops, revealing the shape and size of the structures beneath the surface. It’s fascinating.”

“Some are small ring-ditches, maybe 20 metres or 30 metres in diameter, but there are some truly enormous structures like ringforts and enclosures, in some cases measuring 100 metres in diameter and more,” Mr Murphy said. “The largest structure visible in the Google imagery is in Co Dublin and measures a staggering 350 metres wide.”

“It’s an insight into agriculture and life in general in previous times. People have been farming the land in Ireland for around 6,000 years. The evidence of their settlements, and indeed their farms and of course their burial grounds, is literally everywhere.”

It’s given us a once in a lifetime opportunity to record archaeology which is otherwise invisible.”

Mr Murphy is continuing to discover new sites, including an enclosure at the Fairyhouse Racecourse he spotted in the Google images last week. However, most of the monuments will by now have disappeared under new grass. “Right now if you sent a satellite over the same monuments you wouldn’t see them,” he said. “They’re (the images) a record in time.”

In July, Mr Murphy captured an image of a henge, or a circular enclosure, at the Unesco World Heritage site close Newgrange in Co Meath while flying his drone over the area. Like the other monuments which have recently appeared through Google Earth imagery, the henge appeared following a lengthy dry period during last summer's heatwave. Mr Murphy said at the time that he had flown a drone over the Boyne Valley regularly but had never before seen the henge.

He plans to report his latest discoveries to the National Monuments Service where the images will be added to a database of archaeological sites and monuments.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht said a number of members of the public had made “prominent archaeological discoveries” during the dry months of summer 2018 . These findings prompted further official exploration into the sites and a subsequent aerial survey of the Brú na Bóinne site in Co Meath.

Freely available Google Earth imagery taken during the summer the drought period allowed researchers to identify many previously un-recognised cropmark monuments, she said.

She also expressed thanks to “all those citizen archaeologists and professional researchers for their discoveries”.

The spokeswoman urged members of the public, including researchers and archeologists, to use the Monument Report Form to assist the department in efficient mapping of site locations and further investigation. Once verified, the sites are added to the Sites and Monuments Record which is publicly available to view online.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast