Dr Clíodhna Ní Lionáin cleans one of the kerbstones that has spiralised designs carved into it. (PHOTOS: Maxwell Photography for Devenish)

A previously unknown Neolithic passage tomb has been discovered in County Meath, Ireland, beneath the 18th-century manor house of Dowth Hall. The monument was unearthed by a team from Devenish – the Belfast-based agri-technology firm that has owned Dowth Hall and the surrounding estate since 2013 – in partnership with UCD School of Archaeology, and has been hailed by Dr Clíodhna Ní Lionáin, lead archaeologist on the project, as ‘truly the find of a lifetime.’

The 5,500-year-old tomb appears to include two burial chambers, over which a large stone cairn, measuring c.40m in diameter, would have stood. Six kerbstones have also been uncovered, forming part of a ring of stones around the cairn’s perimeter, as well as two possible satellite tombs.

The Dowth Hall estate is no stranger to such finds, set as it is within the Brú na Bóinne UNESCO World Heritage site, an area that is home to such famous passage tombs as Knowth (see CA 22) and Newgrange. Indeed, the spiralised designs carved into one of the recently discovered kerbstones – which archaeologists on the site say represent one of the most impressive discoveries of megalithic art in Ireland for decades – appear similar to those on kerbstones from the aforementioned tombs. Moreover, over the past five years surveys within the hall’s grounds – carried out by researchers from UCD School of Archaeology in collaboration with the German Archaeological Institute – have discovered five sites of archaeological significance, bringing the estate’s number of known monuments to 13. Six of these date back to the Neolithic.

The Neolithic passage tomb was recently uncovered by archaeologists from Devenish and UCD School of Archaeology.

Dr Steve Davis, who led the survey team, said, ‘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 Brú na Bóinne in recent weeks [see end] highlights what a globally significant landscape this is.’

Owen Brennan, Executive Chairman of Devenish, added, ‘The monuments here, created by some of Ireland’s first farmers, capture our imaginations. It is hugely valuable, and indeed core to our company’s sciencebased ethos, that we preserve and protect this major heritage site for future generations. We would like to thank the National Monuments Service, Meath County Council, and UCD School of Archaeology for working closely with us to develop and maintain the cultural heritage of the Devenish Lands at Dowth.’

This article appeared in CA 343.

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