The role of the River Boyne in prehistory

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A project investigating the archaeology of the River Boyne is revealing the river’s significance in the wider monumental landscape of Brú na Bóinne, Co. Meath.

One of two linear objects found south-east of Dowth mound, interpreted as a possible logboat. [Image: Dr Kieran Westley and Dr Stephen Davis]

The River Boyne would have been an important feature for early occupants of the landscape, both as a central route for communication with other regions and as a way to transport material for the construction of prehistoric monuments like the area’s megalithic passage tombs of Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth. However, recent research into Brú na Bóinne (see CA 356) has identified that there is a gap in existing knowledge about the area when it comes to the river.

The Pleasant Boyne project was thus developed to reposition the river at the heart of the landscape, through research led by a team from University College Dublin and Ulster University, funded by the Royal Irish Academy. The project set out to determine whether the river was significant in the positioning of monuments in the Brú na Bóinne landscape, to evaluate folklore associated with the river, and to identify features of possible archaeological interest on the riverbed through survey.

To address the third aim, researchers conducted a survey of a c.10km-long stretch of the River Boyne, from the weir 0.6km south of the bend at Oldbridge to the weir 1.8km east of Slane Bridge. Potential underwater archaeology was identified by side-scan sonar surveys, which used soundwaves emitted from a transducer towed behind a boat to record the riverbed.

The surveys identified 100 anomalies, of which around 75 are believed to represent natural features such as fallen trees or sandbanks, or modern manmade objects like tyres. However, there are also several features that are of archaeological interest. Among these is a row of six boulders, which appears to be a weir or barrier, probably related to controlling the flow of a small inlet into the main channel from the south. A strong linear feature has also been identified as a possible continuation of a wall in the riverbank, which may have been used as a quay. Two further linear objects have been interpreted as possible logboats; some logboats dating to the Neolithic have been found in the Boyne, but further investigation is needed to determine whether this is also the case here.

This news article appears in issue 365 of Current Archaeology. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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