TARA IN IRELAND -- NEW FINDS -- IN ROAD BUILDERS WAY
Tomb engravings dating back 6,000 years are among the latest discoveries unearthed on the route of a controversial highway under construction in Ireland.
The historic site, at Lismullin in County Meath, was handed over to road builders last month, just weeks after the Stone Age art was found inside a medieval bunker. The engravings have been removed to allow construction of the highway to proceed.
The new find follows the discovery last spring of a prehistoric open-air temple nearby, causing construction along the 37-mile-long (60-kilometer-long) M3 highway northwest of Dublin to be temporarily suspended.
The timber ceremonial enclosure was found just 1.25 miles (2 kilometers) from the Hill of Tara, once the seat of power of ancient Celtic kings. The latest excavations at Lismullin revealed part of a large stone monument, or megalith, decorated with engravings dating to the Late Stone Age, according to archaeologists from Ireland's National Roads Authority (NRA). Discovered some 165 feet (50 meters) from the temple's enclosure, the stone features a series of zigzags, concentric circles, and arcs.
"It's classic megalithic art," said Mary Deevy, NRA's chief archaeologist. "We've only got half a boulder, but we think originally it was probably a curbstone from a passage tomb," she said.
The stone was discovered within an early medieval souterrain, an underground structure that may have been used by local inhabitants to defend themselves against Viking raiders, the excavation team reported. Dating to around the 10th century A.D., the souterrain was probably
constructed using the broken megalith as building material. "The souterrain builders robbed or quarried the stone from a Neolithic [Late Stone Age] monument," Deevy said.
The rock art will eventually go on public display, according to Deevy, who describes the Lismullin site as "100 percent excavated."
The European Commission has reportedly criticized the Irish government for failing to properly reassess the impact of the road project after the ruins of the open-air temple were uncovered last year. Under European law, the discovery should have triggered a so-called environmental impact assessment. While the Lismullin site was declared a national monument, "this has made no difference whatsoever," he added.
There are as many as 40 archaeological sites uncovered along the route of the M3 highway.
A spokesman said: Lismullin is connected to all these other 40 sites, and that they are all part and parcel of one single large national monument, which is the Hill of Tara complex.
Lismullin's timber enclosure site was recently named one of the top ten discoveries of 2007 by the magazine Archaeology, published by the Archaeological Institute of America. "Construction of the new M3 highway, meant to ease traffic congestion around Dublin, threatens not only the Hill of Tara's timeless quality, but also newly discovered archaeological sites in the surrounding valley," the magazine said.