Much of the recent controversy has focused on the 38 new archaeological sites that construction teams have unearthed along the section of motorway closest to Tara since the project began. The discoveries represent centuries of human activity, including prehistoric settlements, Bronze Age burial mounds, a possible medieval charcoal manufacturing kiln and the remains of a 19th-century post office. At the time, the discoveries barely caused a hiccup—the artifacts were removed, and once the sites had been "preserved by record" in notes and photographs, they were destroyed. Ireland's National Roads Authority has pledged that any artifacts will eventually be deposited in the National Museum of Ireland.
While that approach may be legally permissible, that doesn't make it right, says Salafia, who examined one of the exposed trenches at a site just north of Tara. "You could see a child's body where [construction teams] had actually cut off the nose and toes, and also shaved off the top of a cremation urn, leaving the ashes exposed," he says. Eogan calls it "an act of sheer vandalism."
The M3 is scheduled for completion in 2010, though the global recession may delay it. In the meantime, Tara is attracting increased international attention, and is under consideration to become a Unesco World Heritage Site.
"Most of the endangered sites around the world are suffering due to neglect and climate change," Salafia says. "But this is an act of assault—premeditated assault, if you will—by the very people who are given the job of taking care of it."