The entire Boyne Valley in County Meath is one of those Irish gifts that keep on giving. A new project using drones, airborne scanners and satellite-based remote sensing has revealed about three dozen previously unknown structures. They include early Neolithic houses, Bronze Age burial monuments and early Medieval farmsteads. The findings are still being analyzed, but they should give us a much deeper understanding of how our ancestors lived and perhaps even why the Boyne Valley was so important.
Much of our interpretation of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth is speculative. While we have some solid information to work with, these new discoveries could yield even more information to refine or challenge our current understanding of the site’s significance. The area remained a very important location for so many centuries, but until now we have had few clues as to why. The main clue we have is that they are aligned to capture the sun’s rays on specific annual events such as the solstice. Newgrange is designed for the inner chamber to be illuminated at sunrise on the winter solstice, while Loughcrew’s Cairn T captures the first light on the spring and autumn equinox. Another survey in 2017 discovered another monument in the area of Newgrange also aligned with the winter solstice that is the largest and most complex of its kind known in the world.
The Story of the Survey
This survey is about more than finding Irish gifts from ancient times. It is joint project with Germany. The Boyne to Brodgar survey is exploring Neolithic sites from the Boyne Valley to the Orkney Islands looking for connections between them.
Funded by the German government, the Boyne survey is a collaborative effort of the University College Dublin’s School of Archaeology and the Romano-Germanic Commission of Frankfort. The German Aerospace Centre has also provided assistance. The National Monument Service of Ireland and several private landowners have provided essential cooperation to allow the research team to access the lands in question.
Using sophisticated technology, the researchers are surveying hundreds of hectares in the Boyne Valley. The geophysical imagining machine can survey up to 25 hectares a day, putting this project on a different scale from earlier efforts. This survey is also exceptional because it includes both sides of the Boyne River. Newgrange is north of the river, and researchers have been curious about the south side.
With approximately 40 new structures to review and analyze, the researchers won’t have answers for us quickly. They have hundreds of images to examine and interpret. So far, all they can say is that the images indicate that the south side of the Boyne River is indeed as interesting as the north side and they want to investigate several sites there. In the coming months and years, we could discover new images and motifs that will no doubt make their way onto a range of Irish gifts, reminding us that the past is always with us, waiting to be visited and explored.