about 60 sites (of over a hundred or more) still survive
is the largest cemetery of megalithic tombs in Ireland. The tombs are spread
out over 3.8 sq km (1.5sq mi) in the shadow of the Knocknarea
to the east, over a number of fields and townlands, most of them situated
near the road. Carrowmore's placement on a low-lying gravel ridge contrasts to the
hilltop situation of other cemeteries; each mounment stands
on its own little eminence.
Nearly 100 ancient monuments were originally present on this
extensive site. Academic vandalism in Victorian times and modern gravel
quarrying have left only about 65 sites, but the atmosphere of the area remains
quite extraordinary. The majority of tombs are a mixture of small passage-tombs and dolmens,
usually surrounded by a stone kerb and constructed with the large rounded
granite boulders of the area. On this site there are several examples of
what appear to be stone circles but which are, in fact, the kerbing stones of
cairns which have disappeared. Some, however, are considered transitional
forms between the heavy kerbs of cairns and the true free-standing stone
One of the largest tombs is Site 51, known as Listoghil,
a large stone cairn (between 35-41m - 115-134ft) with carvings on its sill
and capstone. This site is typical of the group, a type which spread
west and north from the Boyne Valley, via Loughcrew and Carrowkeel.
The Site 27 is a very early version of the passage-tomb,
in a cruciform shape, it's one of the largest surviving monuments of the Carrowmore
cemetery. In this tomb the Dowth lozenge layout
of four central pillars is repeated. Its probable construction date (3825
BC) controversially proposes that these tombs in western and eastern Ireland
were not initiated by Brittany's megalith builders at all, but instead were
developed independently by an already existing indigenous Neolithic population. Site 4, dated about 4600 BC, contains the remains of a passage-tomb which may
be the earliest in the country. Such an early date, however,
is controversial. This tomb is one of the smallest complete sites in the
cemetery and produced the remains of over 65 fragments of antler pins, including
seven pieces with mushroom-shaped heads, as well as over 30 kilos of cremated human
bone. Site 7 is a megalith with a polygonal chamber of five 1.3m (4.2ft)
tall stones supporting a large capstone and with two additional stones at
the entrance. It stood at the centre of a 13m (42ft) circle of 31 boulders,
and appears to have had no mound covering it originally.
Only the boulder kerb of Site 26 remains. The tomb
proper was demolished when Later Bronze Age or Early Iron Age peoples reorganised
the site as a ritual enclosure about 680 to 490 BC.
Swedish excavations at Carrowmore from 1977 to 1979 suggested
that the small, simple tombs, were probably very early burial-places of
immigrant farming families.