5,500-year-old passage tomb from ‘first farmers’ unearthed

Archaeological research by agri-technology company Devenish and University College Dublin’s (UCD’s) School of Archaeology has unearthed a significant passage tomb cemetery beside Dowth Hall in Co. Meath.

The excavation has uncovered a new and significant passage tomb cemetery dating back some 5,500 years.

The tomb

To date, two burial chambers have been discovered within the western part of the main passage tomb – over which a large stone cairn (approximately 40m in diameter) was raised.

The six kerbstones that have been identified so far would have formed part of a ring of stones that followed the cairn perimeter.

One kerbstone is heavily decorated with Neolithic carvings and reportedly represents one of the most impressive discoveries of megalithic art in Ireland for decades. During the course of this project, a further two possible satellite tombs were also found.

Dr. Cliodhna Ni Lionain, Devenish’s lead archaeologist for the project, said: “For the archaeologists involved in this discovery, it is truly the find of a lifetime.”

Dr. Steve Davis of UCD’s School of Archaeology also commented: “This is the most significant megalithic find in Ireland in the last 50 years, since the excavation of Knowth.

“The spate of archaeological discoveries in Bru na Boinne in recent weeks highlights what a globally-significant place this is.”

L-R: Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan; Dr. Cliodhna Ni Lionain, Devenish’s lead archaeologist; Devenish executive chairman Owen Brennan; and his wife Prof. Alice Stanton

Speaking about the company’s presence at Dowth and the importance of its heritage, Owen Brennan – executive chairman of Devenish – said: “Devenish invested in this farm at Dowth because of its fertile soil, its location beside the Boyne and its beautiful landscape.

‘First farmers’

“From our archaeological research, it seems we made the same decision for the same reasons as a long line of our farming colleagues from the Neolithic, the Bronze Age, medieval and more recent times.

“The monuments here, created by some of Ireland’s first farmers, capture our imaginations and those of our visitors to the Devenish Lands at Dowth.

“We also take this opportunity to invite people to tour the megalithic finds of this excavation during Heritage Week in August,” Brennan added.

Speaking today at the excavation site, the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, said: “I want to compliment both Devenish and UCD’s School of Archaeology on the outstanding archaeological work in progress at Dowth Hall in Co. Meath.

The discovery of this new and very significant passage tomb cemetery – dating back to the Neolithic period, some 5,500 years ago – is hugely significant, as it will help improve our understanding of the people, culture and heritage in that era.

“To know that this historic site will be preserved for future generations to see, understand and cherish is positive in every respect,” she said.

As well as the large passage tombs, other significant discoveries have been made as part of an ongoing programme of archaeological research work on the Devenish Lands at Dowth over the past five years – led by Dr. Stephen Davis, UCD School of Archaeology, and Dr. Cliodhna Ni Lionain in collaboration with colleagues from the German Archaeological Institute.

The site

This has increased the number of recorded monuments on the site from eight to 13.

There are six distinct heritage landscapes on the Devenish Lands at Dowth dating from 5,500 years ago: Middle Neolithic passage tombs; a Late Neolithic henge and associated structures; a Bronze Age enclosure; at least two high-status Early Medieval enclosures; Late Medieval settlements; and the demesne landscape created around Dowth Hall in the 1700s.

The layering of this number of heritage landscapes in the same location is very rare.

Devenish acquired Dowth Hall and its lands in 2013.

Since then, the Devenish Lands at Dowth have become an “internationally-recognised research farm dedicated to sustainable agriculture and promoting human health through nutrition”, according to the Belfast-headquartered firm.

Dowth Hall and the Devenish Lands at Dowth will be open to the public on occasions throughout the year. This summer, the lands and the hall will be open during Heritage Week (August 18 to August 26).