Posted January 14, 2017 by toderen
Categories: Articles

Lismullin Henge in Ireland

 

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Fig. 1. The aerial photo of the archaeological site Lismullin 1, facing southeast. The boundaries of the landtake of the motorway M3 are easily visible. Lismullin Henge was situated in a natural amphitheatre, which formed the centre of a hill located on the eastern bank of Gabhra River valley (the area covered with protective blue plastic in the landtake and adjacent area to the southwest beyond the landtake, in the middle distance in the picture). In the foreground there are the archaeological compound and Gabhra River valley. In the background there is the hilltop enclosure of Rath Lugh (the hill partly covered with trees, behind the spoil heap). April 2007.

Lismullin Henge or Lismullin Circle is unique, vast (covering 0.5 hectare), small wooden posts ritual enclosure, built in the middle of a natural amphitheatre, dated – with two radiocarbon dates ranging from 520 to 370 BC – to Early Iron Age, and found by Polish archaeologist Krzysztof Kmiecik in Ireland on February 7th, 2007 during topsoil stripping of the archaeological site Lismullin 1.

The site Lismullin 1 was one of the archaeological sites identified during preliminary archaeological testing in the landtake of motorway M3, and excavated prior to construction of the motorway.

 

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Fig. 2. The aerial photo of the archaeological site Lismullin 1, facing west. The boundaries of the landtake of the motorway M3 are easily visible. Lismullin Henge was situated in the natural amphitheatre, which formed the centre of the hill located on the eastern bank of Gabhra River valley (the area covered with protective blue plastic in the landtake and adjacent area to southwest beyond the landtake, in the foreground). In the background there are Gabhra River valley and the archaeological compound. April 2007.

Lismullin Henge was constructed about 2 kilometres to the northeast from Hill of Tara, former Irish Early Christian royal centre and spiritual capital of modern Ireland, in the natural postglacial bowl-shaped depression resembling circular amphitheatre, forming the centre of the rise situated on the eastern bank of Gabhra River valley.

 

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Fig. 3. The map showing the archaeological site Lismullin 1 in relation to some other archaeological sites discovered in the landtake of the motorway M3 (marked in red), the national road N3 (marked in green) and Hill of Tara (to the southwest from the site Lismullin 1; hilltop marked as a view point). Scale 1:50,000 (metric).

Lismullin Henge was extremely hard to find, being built – almost exclusively – of small timber posts, hammered to the ground, ranging averagely from 0.10 to 0.15 metres in diameter, and consisted of:

an outer circle (outer enclosure), with imposing external diameter of 80 metres, of two concentric rings of small posts (between 300 and 400 in total, with intervals measuring mostly from 0.60 metre to 1 metre), situated averagely from 1.5 metre to 2 metres apart;

 

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Fig. 4. The archaeological site Lismullin 1. Lismullin Henge. Archaeologists are cleaning with trowels a part of the site surface with the remains of the henge. The small postholes from the outer ring and the inner ring of the outer circle situated near the eastern entrance to the henge are clearly visible (small dark circular spots marked with red-and-white tape). There are also blue plastic sheets visible, protecting the site against elements. The photo was taken facing north. April 2007.

an eastern entrance in outer circle, being most likely a monumental gate or entrance passage, built of four large posts, as well as

an entrance avenue, 4 metres in width and 30 metres in length, arranged in two parallel rows of sparsely placed stakes (in intervals measuring about 3 metres), leading to

an inner circle or ring (concentric inner enclosure), with diameter of 16 metres, of 60 small posts, situated in the lowest area of the natural Lismullin amphitheatre. Certainly, the inner circle was the most important place of the henge, a centre of, most likely, a religious ceremony, which took place there in Early Iron Age.

There was a sequence (row) of pits within the inner circle, situated in the axis of the entrance avenue, and an elongated pit traversing the entrance avenue close to the inner circle, where charcoal and burnt and unburnt unidentified bone fragments were found. Those pits were most likely elements of the henge, as well.

Perhaps also so-called four post structure to the northwest from the inner circle and so-called cruciform structure to the southwest from the inner circle were parts of the henge.

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Fig. 5. The archaeological site Lismullin 1. Lismullin Henge. The pre-excavation plan of the henge, orientated to the north, in the landtake of the motorway M3. The plans of the small postholes, forming the two rings of the outer circle and the single ring of the inner circle, as well as the plans of the stakeholes from the entrance avenue and the eastern entrance have been shown. There are also shown the plans of the pits inside the inner circle, and the plan of the elongated pit traversing the entrance avenue. In the fills of the pits charcoal and unidentified cremated and non-cremated bone fragments have been found. So-called cruciform structure to the southwest from the inner circle is also partly visible. Scale 1: 500 (metric). April 2007.

Lismullin Henge was then a sophisticated, complex structure, where also the unique terrain has been itself important part of the henge, greatly increasing its dimensions and possible capacity (the natural Lismullin amphiteatre covered about 1.5 hectare). Lismullin Henge was likely a gathering place or a temple (perhaps sacred precinct with temple in its centre) or both. It has many similarities to prehistoric, mostly Neolithic and Bronze Age, circular or oval ritual structures, some named henges, known from Ireland and Britain, with the best known Stonehenge monument. Lismullin Henge was probably similar, regarding its purpose and functionality, to a modern religious sanctuary.

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Fig. 6. Topography of the archaeological site Lismullin 1 and its vincinity. The boundaries of the landtake of the motorway M3, the site boundaries, as well as the rough plan of Lismullin Henge have been shown. The hill on the eastern bank of Gabhra River valley (the valley to the west; left) with the natural amphitheater in its centre, where Lismullin Henge was built is clearly visible (the double outer circle, the inner circle, the eastern entrance and the entrance avenue of the henge have been marked). April 2007.

The form of a circle seems to be an old symbol of human community, and, likely, was associated as the sun god symbol with possibly solar religion of the builders of the henge, as indicated also by the eastern entrance. An eastern orientation of an entrance is a common feature of many henges.

 

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Fig. 7. The archaeological site Lismullin 1. Lismullin Henge. The henge was constructed in the centre of the natural amphitheatre – darker area in the picture with the darkest area in the middle, where remains of the inner circle have been found. The boundary of the site (the boundary of the landtake of the motorway M3) and the area beyond the boundary, where one third of the henge remains have been left unexcavated are easily visible. There is Gabhra River valley in the background. The photo was taken facing south. April 2007.

Lismullin Henge can be reconstructed in several ways.

Possibly all outer circle small posts were relatively low free-standing features, which allowed to see what was happening in the lower part of the natural Lismullin amphitheater near the inner circle or in the inner circle itself. They could also formed a fence-like structure. The diameter of the outer circle was too big to cover it with a roof, so it was certainly an open-air structure. 

The inner circle small posts were possibly also free-standing features, but could be taller. The inner circle could be also a kind of a fence-like structure or even a walled and roofed structure.

The four eastern entrance posts were most likely tall and monumental. Perhaps formed the entrance gate.

The entrance avenue stakes were possibly free-standing and relatively low.

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Fig. 8. The archaeological site Lismullin 1. Lismullin Henge. Archaeologists are excavating and recording small postholes from the outer circle situated near the eastern entrance (the north-eastern part of the outer circle). In the foreground in the picture there is the box section through the two small postholes from the inner and the outer rings of the outer circle. The photo was taken facing northwest. September 2007.

It is amazing the great majority of the remains of the features belonging to the henge survived thousands of years. Timber as a construction material is known to be fragile, so it seems to be reasonable to assume the henge was in use for a relatively short period. Perhaps it was built to serve only one special ritual. If it is true, it could be a funeral ritual. Perhaps the unidentified burnt and unburnt bone fragments and the charcoal from the pits, situated inside the inner circle and probably from the elongated pit traversing the entrance avenue are remains of token cremation burials. Possibly the pits were offering pits containing remains of ritual meals to honour some god or important deceased person, buried nearby, or both.

The elongated pit traversing the entrance avenue seems to have separated clearly the inner circle from the rest of the henge, therefore possibly only the pit itself contained ritual or funeral feast remains, and the pits inside the inner circle token cremation burials or offerings dedicated strictly to some god.

When we consider also the uniqueness of Lismullin Henge structure, its imposing dimensions and location, as well as its proximity to Hill of Tara, which was Early Christian royal capital with royal tradition reaching possibly far back to pre-Christian era, and its former importance (as indicated by Neolithic megalithic passage tomb, many Bronze Age burials, as well as many prehistoric ring barrows and possible prehistoric ritual enclosures found there), it seems to be consistent to link Lismullin Henge with a local centre of power, possibly even royal.

Lismullin Circle could be then temple (perhaps funeral or mortuary) with significant token cremation burial of local community leader (or leaders), or temple, where some god and/or deceased important member (or members) of local community, buried in or nearby, were worshipped, serving also as important gathering place.

We have to remember yet, the one third of the henge situated beyond the motorway landtake, which has not been excavated, can deliver further evidence supporting or cancelling the hypotheses. It is certain anyway, what was happening in the henge, was related to what was happening on Tara Hill in Early Iron Age.

A plan to build motorway M3 near Hill of Tara has become controversial from the very beginning. One of its opponents, archaeologist Conor Newman, author of some of the most important works on Tara Hill monuments, said what has happened at Tara area will be ”the yardstick against which our reputation as guardians of cultural heritage will be judged”. The discovery of Lismullin Henge has become a national issue and has been widely commented by the public in Ireland and worldwide. On May 1st, 2007 Lismullin Henge has been declared an Irish national monument – first Irish national monument found during regular archaeological investigation. There were organised protests against the construction of motorway M3 near Tara Hill and at Lismullin.

The European Parliament Petition Committee and European Environmental Commissioner proved a breach of the European Union Law by the Irish government, who failed to make a new environment impact assessment of the motorway M3 plan after discovery of Lismullin Henge, and vowed the Irish government to revise the motorway plan and protect common Irish and European heritage. Yet, the Irish goverment decided to proceed with the construction of the motorway M3 as planned, and most of the natural Lismullin amphitheatre and its vincinity has been destroyed.

Lismullin Henge is the only ritual circle with amphitheatrical arrangement known in the world, built of unusually small timber posts in three impressive concentric rings with eastern entrance and entrance avenue. It gives us an excellent opportunity to revise our knowledge of prehistoric spiritual world in general, and elusive Irish Early Iron Age in particular. With no doubt it is one of the greatest national monuments in Ireland, but it is also a great monument of our common European and world heritage. In January 2008, American archaeologists in ”The Archaeology” declared Lismullin Henge one of the top ten archaeological discoveries of 2007.

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Fig. 9. The aerial photo of archaeological site Lismullin 1, facing east. The natural Lismullin amphitheatre in the middle of the hill on the eastern bank of Gabhra River valley with Lismullin Henge in its centre is perfectly visible. April 2007.

Copyright by toderen, 2008

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