|23 October 1999
5,500 year old tomb discovered in Ireland
Archaeological excavations on the south-eastern edge of the Burren in Co Clare (Ireland) have revealed one of the most extensive and well-preserved prehistoric landscapes in Europe.
At the Roughan Hill site archaeologists have uncovered a megalithic tomb over 5,500 years old. It is in a preserved prehistoric landscape set among contemporary neolithic/early Bronze Age farmsteads, settlements and field walls. According to Dr Carlton Jones - director of Burren Archaeology Research, a private company - the excavation of the system, which includes five settlements, could be hugely important in revealing the prehistoric rural lifestyle of Ireland's first farmers.
Dr Jones said that the excavation was very significant in a European context to uncover a whole visible, preserved prehistoric landscape. He said the prehistoric site at Roughan Hill formed part of a thriving farming community that lived here from about 4000 BCE through 2000 BCE
The archaeologist said Ireland's earliest farmers chose the south-eastern Burren because of the light, welldrained soil and the gentle typography. The site contained the densest concentration of neolithic wedge tombs in the country, which date from 2400 BCE to 2000 BCE. The oldest monument on the hill was a court tomb dating from 3500 BCE. The findings also suggest that the Irish settled down earlier than people from other "Atlantic fringe" countries, such as Denmark, Germany, France and Portugal.
To date, two of the three chambers in the court tomb - the name derives from a large forecourt in front of the entrance - which measures 15 metres in diameter, have been excavated. The third chamber is to be opened up next year.
Within the excavated chambers, the archaeologists found leaf-shaped arrowheads, a bone bead from a piece of jewelry, tools called scrapers that may have been used to scrape cow hides, sherds of coarse ware pottery and human bones mixed with animal bones. A cow skull was found at the base of one of the stones in the forecourt. "These are the very first farmers in Ireland and so their identity is wrapped up in being farmers, so the occurrence of human bone and animal bone together in the tomb is more representative of what is important to them in life." Dr Jones added that within the tomb piles of bones could be found, though they were not full skeletons. "The bodies seem to have been left elsewhere until they turned to bones and the selected bones are then taken to the tomb where they are placed in patterns."
Dr Jones estimates that excavation on the tomb will take another two years, while there are plans to extend the excavation.
Sources: The Irish Times (8 september 99), ABCE News (18 october 99)
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