Investigating Carrowmore’s unusual monument

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Excavation in the Carrowmore complex of megalithic monuments in County Sligo, Ireland, known for its prehistoric passage tombs, has shed interesting new light on one of the supposed burial mounds on the site.

An archaeologist excavating a Bronze Age monument at Carrowmore
The survey and excavation of a Bronze Age monument at Carrowmore revealed some unusual features. [Image credit: Conor Doherty and IT Sligo]

Carrowmore has the largest concentration of megalithic tombs in Ireland, with 40 identified monuments of the passage tomb tradition, dating from c.3700 BC. This summer, archaeologists from IT Sligo carried out a geophysical survey and training excavation of one of the monuments, which was previously believed to be a late prehistoric barrow. In Ireland, such monuments are usually defined by an earthen mound surrounded by a circular ditch.

Dr Marion Dowd, who codirected the dig, said: ‘There are several barrows within the Carrowmore complex. These have generally been viewed as Bronze Age or Iron Age in date, post-dating the Neolithic passage tombs by several thousand years. We wanted to investigate how later prehistoric people perceived and used this rich Neolithic funerary landscape.’

The geophysical survey highlighted several interesting features. Dr James Bonsall, excavation co-director, said: ‘Our survey revealed several features that were not visible above ground. We discovered that the “barrow” contained a central pit and a substantial circular ditch.’

The two-week training excavation revealed a broad, shallow ditch surrounding a raised ring made up of various layers of stone. This in turn enclosed a sunken area filled with a series of charcoal-rich layers of soil. No bone was encountered, though an assemblage of chert scrapers, blades, and worked chert was found scattered throughout the monument.

Marion explained: ‘Our excavations have revealed that this monument does not appear to be a barrow. So far, we cannot find any parallel for it in Ireland, but we hope to return to the site next year to continue excavations and determine the date and nature of this enigmatic site.’

So, while the exact purpose of this monument remains elusive, it is hoped that dating and future excavation will help provide more insight.

This news article appears in issue 355 of Current Archaeology. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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