Irish Farmer Stumbles Onto ‘Untouched’ Ancient Tomb

Archaeologists think the well-preserved burial dates to the Bronze Age—or perhaps even earlier

Wedge tomb in County Cork, Ireland
Bronze Age wedge tombs like the one pictured here are found throughout southwest Ireland. But the newly discovered burial “seems to be different,” archaeologist Mícheál Ó Coileáin tells the Irish Times. “Wedge tombs are usually visible above ground, [but] this one is completely concealed.” Slongy via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY 4.0

A farmer conducting routine land improvement work recently uncovered an “untouched” ancient tomb on the Dingle Peninsula, a stretch of land on Ireland’s southwest coast.

As Seán Mac an tSíthigh reports for Irish broadcaster RTÉ, the County Kerry resident stumbled onto the structure after turning over a rock and spotting a stone-lined passageway beneath it. When archaeologists from the National Monuments Service (NMS) and the National Museum of Ireland surveyed the chamber, they determined that it probably dates to between 2000 B.C. and 500 B.C. but could be even older.

“Given its location, orientation and the existence of the large slab your initial thought is this is a Bronze Age tomb,” archaeologist Mícheál Ó Coileáin tells RTÉ. “But the design of this particular tomb is not like any of the other Bronze Age burial sites we have here.”

Experts say the grave is in its original state and contains human remains, making it a unique archaeological find, according to Irish Central’s Catherine Devane. NMS opted to keep the site’s exact location a secret to ensure it remains undisturbed.

The tomb consists of a large space with a smaller adjoining chamber, writes Ronan McGreevy for the Irish Times. Researchers also found a strange, oblong stone and what appear to be human bone fragments inside the underground passageway.

“It is very well built, and a lot of effort has gone into putting the large cap stone over it,” Ó Coileáin tells the Times. “It’s not a stone that was just found in the ground. It seems to have some significance.”

The Dingle Peninsula is known for its rich array of archaeological finds. People have inhabited the landmass for the past 6,000 years, and around 2,000 ancient monuments remain standing in the area.

Key discoveries made on the peninsula include wedge tombs, whose chambers “form a long, relatively narrow gallery which decreases in height and width from front to rear,” per Seán Ó Nualláin of Expedition magazine. These graves are typically oriented to the west and southwest; some boast unusual features like porticos placed at their western end, notes RTÉ.

Much of the newly unearthed tomb “remains hidden underground, [so] it is difficult to fully assess the layout,” Breandán Ó Cíobháin, an archaeologist and place names expert, tells RTÉ.

Scholars are unsure who created the grave, but as the Times notes, they theorize that it could be a chambered tomb from the Bronze Age or an underground mausoleum dated to Ireland’s early Christian period.

“This one seems to be different,” Ó Coileáin tells the Times. “Wedge tombs are usually visible above ground, [but] this one is completely concealed.”

Ancient people may have conducted ceremonies at the site, the archaeologist adds.

“We think this may have been a ritual site with an element of burial in it and this could be one of those,” he says to the Times. “This looks like it is a chambered tomb from the prehistoric period which might have been a significant marker on the landscape.”

Much about the grave remains unknown, Ó Cíobháin tells RTÉ.

Still, he says, “It is an extremely significant find as the original structure has been preserved and not interfered with, as may have occurred in the case of other uncovered tomb[s].”

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