Ghostly shadows of hidden structures near Newgrange revealed by heatwave

11 Jul 2018

Newgrange monument and its surrounding fields. Image: Remizov/Shutterstock

The heatwave of recent weeks in Ireland and the UK has brought a number of challenges, but it appears to be a blessing for archaeologists.

You may have seen photos released over the past few days of aerial shots showing once lush, green fields left dry and brown after weeks of an intense heatwave across Ireland and the UK.

The images helped put into context the challenges faced by farmers as they struggle to maintain healthy crops and enough of a food supply for livestock.

But little did we realise that the parched grass and high temperatures would prove to be a major boon for archaeologists, as recent aerial photos taken near the ancient Newgrange site in Co Meath have revealed a number of previously undiscovered monuments in the surrounding area.

The photos were revealed by Anthony Murphy of Mythical Ireland and Ken Williams of Shadows and Stone, showing perfectly ringed structures, possibly henges – similar to Stonehenge – or other types of enclosures.

Archaeological bonanza

The new sites appear to be near an area designated as ‘site P’, a partially destroyed henge in the Boyne Valley close to the Newgrange site, but no records seem to show the existence of what would very much appear to be ancient human structures.

Murphy and Williams said they have both notified the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht of their find as well as an archaeologist to see if the sites can be excavated.

Across the Irish Sea, similar sightings have occurred during the recent hot spell, with Wired reporting that a number of previously undiscovered ghostly shadows of ancient settlements have popped up across the Welsh countryside.

Unlike Newgrange, these sites show a likelihood that they would have been above-ground structures left in disrepair over a period of centuries until eventually returning to the soil. This can be seen in the darker green areas of the soil at each of these sites, caused by the digging of trenches and rivulets during the construction of foundations.

The resulting deeper layer of topsoil, with its greater stores of nutrients and moisture, would take longer to dry out. This means it stays greener than the rest of the fields while the surrounding soil appears bone dry.

“It’s like a painting that comes out into the fieldscapes,” said archaeologist Louise Barker of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales.

“We’re seeing new things with all of these cropmarks; we probably haven’t seen anything like this since the 1970s, the last time there was a really, really dry summer like this.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic