Drought Reveals Ancient Henge in Ireland


The site of a previously unidentified henge structure in an agricultural field, very close to the 5,000-year-old Newgrange passage tomb, 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Dublin. Screen shot/Youtube/howstuffworks

Neolithic Europeans were no layabouts. Imagine the amount of work it would have taken prehistoric people to put food on the table, much less make ornaments and ceremonial structures. But all over the British Isles, you can find evidence that prehistoric people were doing just that — lugging enormous stones and timbers all over the countryside in order to build places to gather, bury their dead and hold ceremonies.

And certain areas seem to have been more popular than others. Due to a particularly dry summer in Ireland, a drone camera has found the site of a previously unidentified henge structure in an agricultural field, very close to the 5,000-year-old Newgrange passage tomb near the Boyne River, 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Dublin. A henge is a prehistoric structure consisting of a large circular arrangement of standing stones, wooden posts, mounds or burial pits. Although the timbers of the newly found 150-meter-wide (492-feet-wide) circular structure have entirely rotted away in the intervening millenia, the differences in soil moisture where the wooden posts used to stand has been enough to make the vegetation greener in those places, compared to the surrounding ground, tracing the outline of the henge on the drought-scorched agricultural field.

The discovery was made by a local henge enthusiast, writer and photographer Anthony Murphy, who had photographed this particular field by drone several times before.

"I've been studying the landscape for 20 years and I never thought I'd make a discovery," he told the New York Times. "I thought the archaeologists had discovered everything there was to be revealed."

Although nothing is yet known about what this henge was used for, given the other Neolithic structures in the Boyne Valley, it could be as many as 5,000 years old. It is certainly big enough to have held thousands of people at one time. An archaeological dig could probably unearth clues about what the ancient structure was used for, but since it sits on private property, the potential of the site to cough up its secrets remains uncertain.

Regardless, this is the fourth major henge site discovered in the Newgrange area, which helps archaeologists study what about this part of Ireland was so special to ancient Europeans.


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