| 8 December 2003
Enormous Irish monument discovered underground
Archaeologists already knew that a huge structure was hidden under Ireland's Hill of Tara, about 30 miles northwest of Dublin. In 1999 we covered a first discovery of a henge. But now Irish archaeologists have announced that an enormous temple - that was once surrounded by 300 towering oak posts - lies directly underneath the Hill of Tara.
Conor Newman, an archaeology lecturer at the National University of Ireland at Galway, located the monument, which he believes dates from 2500 to 2300 BCE. Since 1992, Newman has been preparing a survey of the area for the state-funded Discovery Programme. He found the Tara temple using an underground radar device. According to his report, the egg-shaped monument at its greatest width measures 186 yards. While the oak posts that probably once comprised an entire forest have long since disappeared, the existing post holes indicate each tree was approximately 2.2 yards wide.
The exact use of the temple remains unclear, but Newman and Aoife Kane of the Discovery Programme speculate that it held some ritualistic meaning. "For thousands of years the region has been home to some of Ireland's richest farming land," Kane said. "It is likely that farmers had the time and means to build such a monument for ritualistic purposes."
Breandán Mac Suibhne, program coordinator for the Keough Institute for Irish Studies at the University of Notre Dame, said that such rituals were probably related to fertility. In fact, one of Tara's most famous monuments is the phallic-shaped Lia Fáil, or Stone of Destiny. It likely played a role in early fertility rituals, and was later probably used to initiate the area's earliest kings. Mac Suibhne explained, "The fertility idea merged into politics, as kings were believed to marry the land."
An overwhelming 142 kings were said to have reigned at Tara during prehistoric and historic times. Like the Stone of Destiny, the newly discovered temple may have evolved in meaning over time. In addition to the temple and the Stone of Destiny, the Hill of Tara houses the remains of a number of large ring forts and tombs. Several other standing stones are at the site as well. Legend has it that would-be kings had to race their chariots towards two such stones.
Source: Discovery News (21 November 2003)
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