Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.

Details on the 1994-2000 excavation campaign

Tomb No. 4

Only one date from construction layers was obtained during the 1977-1982 campaign. Since this date is the earliest so far obtained from the Carrowmore cemetery, it is of great importance that additional data from AMS dating technique will be available for the interpretation. Half of the monument was left unexcavated for future investigations. According to the requirements from The Office of Public Works, OPW, 1/4 of the tomb will be left for future investigations. One quadrant of Tomb No. 4 was excavated in 1994.

Tombs nos 7 and 27 revealed important information on some of the larger monument types at Carrowmore, a dolmen and a cruciform chamber. The dates and function of a series of smaller dolmens, as well as cist-like tombs, are still unknown, and nos 1, 13, 37 and 56 would provide vital knowledge on the position of these types.

Carrowmore 51
The dolmen at the center of Circle 51

The fact that tombs nos 1, 13 and 56 are situated in close vicinity of the Visitor Centre, as are nos 4 and 51, these excavations also provide a valuable public access possibility during the tourist season. A section of each monument will be left unexcavated for future investigations. The excavation of Tomb No. 56 was started in 1994 and completed in 1995. The excavation of Tomb No. 1 was started in 1995.

In the archaeological survey of Carrowmore, Tomb No. 51, Listoghil, holds a central position for several reasons. The monument differs considerably from other tombs within the cemetery, both in size and construction.

Its central location in the middle of the oval-shaped cluster of the other tombs makes it crucial to our understanding of the ritual function and symbolism of the ritual landscape of the whole cemetery, and its chronological position is indeed important in this context. It is the only monument in the cemetery from which you can see both Ballisadare Bay, to the south, and Sligo Bay, to the north, as well as most of the other Carrowmore tombs.

The excavation of Tomb 51 was commenced during the 1996 season, and was continued in 1997, and will be completed in 1998. The chamber, the area around the chamber and a large segment of the mound are being excavated in order to fulfil three main aims: to provide valid dates for the construction and use of the monument, to provide a clear picture of the construction of chamber and mound, that can also be used for a reconstruction of the destroyed, once gigantic mound, and to provide evidence for rituals and ceremonies performed at this monument. For the same reasons, the burial traditions in this tomb have to be compared to those performed at the other tombs.

The view from Carrowmore 51.
The view from Carrowmore 51.

Megalithic art has been discovered on the front of the roof slab of the central chamber, and also inside the chamber itself. The more or less intact boulder circle, consisting of about one hundred large stones, has been completely exposed, and thereby allows an exact calculation of the monument's original diameter and size.

After the 1998 excavation season, Tomb No. 51 will be completely reconstructed. A concrete vault and passage will be built, permitting public access to the central chamber, and the cairn will be restored to its original size.

There is no doubt that the actual position of Tomb No. 51 must have been of major interest in the original layout of the cemetery. This does not, of course, neccessarily mean that the dominant chamber with its cairn is the first structure to have been built on this focal spot, as the ongoing excavation also has shown.

Radiocarbon dates from the central chamber have shown that this was built about 3600 BC. On the east side of the central chamber, below the intact cairn, three large gneiss boulders were found. The boulders form no part of the chamber. They seem to have been pushed aside during the chamber construction, and may well be the remains of an earlier megalithic structure that predates the preserved one.

The remains of burials in Tomb No. 51 are unburned human bones. A piece of a skull, showing clear cut-marks probably resulting from defleshing, has been dated to the tomb's original period of use. As the common burial practice at Carrowmore is cremation, this highlights the fact that inhumation and cremation were both practiced at the same time within the Carrowmore tradition. From a social and ritual, and maybe also ethnic, point of view, this is an important contextual fact.

The Primrose Grange hut site, field systems and megalithic tombs

Detailed surveys of this vast archaeological landscape, situated three kilometers southwest of Carrowmore, was started in 1995, totalstation mapping, human geographical analysis, phosphate survey and interpretation of aerial, infrared photography.

The hut site is very similar to the Neolithic hut sites at Lough Gur, both in terms of size and visible construction, and it is possible that also the Primrose Grange hut site is of a Neolithic date, and thereby extremely important in the cultural-historical context of Carrowmore.

Knocknarea viewed from the Carrowmore Riding School.
Knocknarea viewed from the Carrowmore Riding School.

Furthermore, the existence of megalithic tombs, one of which has been recorded as a court tomb, in close proximity to the hut site and the field systems, could provide vital information as to the cultural and chronological relationship between the two megalithic traditions in question: the passage tombs and the court tombs.

Also, the excavation of this complex of sites would again add vital information to the important question of the economic background to the different stages of the megalithic traditions on the Knocknarea peninsula, and in Ireland as a whole.

The excavation of the Primrose Grange megalithic tombs was commenced during the 1996 season, and was continued in 1997, and will be completed during the 1998 season. Rich deposits of unburned human bones, as well as artefacts made of flint, chert and bone, were found in the first section excavated in Primrose Tomb 1. Several chert arrowheads of outstanding quality belong to the find materal.

Morphologically, the Primrose Grange tomb lacks all features that characterise the Carrowmore tombs. Yet the ongoing excavation has shown that the tomb was in use at the same time as the Carrowmore cemetery. A radiocarbon date from the intact deposition layer inside the chamber has produced a date from about 4000 BC, and, thus, the date of the tomb construction can be expected to pre-date that sample. The burials found in PrimTomb 1 are all inhumations, no cremated bones have as yet been found.

The artefacts associated with the burials from the Carrowmore tombs and the Primrose Grange tomb are also to a considerable extent different. The typical Carrowmore grave assemblage consists of mushroom-headed antler pins and stone/clay balls, artefacts that have not yet been found in the Primrose Grange context. Instead, extraordinary pieces of chert artefacts are found in Primrose Tomb 1, mainly leaf-shaped or pointed arrow-heads.

Questions concerning the relation beetween the Carrowmore and Primrose Grange tombs is of utmost importance to our understanding of the demographic, social, ethnic and ritual situation in the Irish megalithic.

Carrowmore 51.
The large restored kerbed cairn, Carrowmore 51, with Queen Maeve's cairn on the summit of Knocknarea beyond.