Explore the Story of Ireland’s Passage Tombs  

Passage tombs are undoubtedly one of Ireland’s most iconic archaeological monument types.  Every year thousands of people visit the great tombs of the Boyne Valley – Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, or climb the hills of Loughcrew or Carrowkeel to discover these ancient places.  The tombs were constructed over 5,000 years ago, generally between 3,600–2,900 BC, during the Neolithic Period.  Passage tombs typically consist of large mounds of stone or earth that cover a burial chamber that was accessed by a stone-lined passageway, and some tombs contain complex megalithic art.  There are at least 230 known passage tombs across Ireland, and these monuments can also be found along the Atlantic seaboard of Western Europe, from the Iberian Peninsula of Spain and Portugal, Brittany in France, the Westernmost parts of Britain and Sweden.

But how and why did communities of early farmers come together to build these colossal monuments?  In this podcast, Neil had the opportunity to discuss passage tombs with Dr Jessica Smyth of UCD School of Archaeology.  We discussed Jessica’s exciting project Passage Tomb People that uses a multidisciplinary approach to better understand some of the social and economic aspects of passage tombs and to examine questions about the societies that built them.

 Episode 4 Passage Tombs – Show Notes

  • You can find out more about Jessica’s fascinating project on the Passage Tomb People Website.
  • For an excellent and insightful overview into Ireland’s passage tombs we highly recommend First Light; the Origins of Newgrange by Dr. Robert Hensey. Published by Oxbow Books.
  • For truly stunning images of Ireland’s passage tombs and megalithic art it is well worth spending some time on Shadows and Stone, Ken Williams is an absolute artist when it comes to capturing the intricacies of these enigmatic works of art.
  • Ken also has a very insightful article that addresses the recent controversy regarding the roof-box at Newgrange.
  • In an absolute gift to us all, the six volumes on the excavation of the great passage tomb of Knowth have been made available free on the Digital Repository of Ireland. It’s a truly incredible resource!
  • A number of the best examples of passage tombs are accessible to visit.  Many under the auspices of the OPW.  Including Newgrange and Knowth that are accessible through the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre, and Loughcrew.  Those three in particular feature on our free audioguide to the Boyne Valley and you can hear their story there.
  • We carried out a small targeted excavation of a passage tomb behind the Hellfire Club in the Dublin Mountains.  You can read all about the excavation and what we discovered in our free ebook.

Amplify Archaeology Podcast

During this podcast series we will meet some of Ireland’s archaeologists to discuss the key periods, places and people that tell the story of Ireland, and we’ll gain new insights into the practice and techniques of modern Irish archaeology.  This is the fourth instalment of Amplify Archaeology, previous episodes have featured discussions on Castles, Mesolithic Ireland and Glendalough.

I’d love some feedback, so please do leave a comment below – and if you have any questions about Irish archaeology please do let me know, we can try to answer them in forthcoming episodes.  Finally if you enjoyed this podcast I’d be really grateful if you could leave us a review on iTunes, or share it and tell your friends.

The podcast is an Abarta Heritage production.  It was recorded on location by Neil Jackman (the interviewer), with Dr Jessica Smyth.  We are so grateful to Jessica for her generosity with her time and insights.