Vast Temple Complex Found Hidden Beneath Mound In Northern Ireland

Aerial Photograph of Navan Fort. Comparative Kingship Project/Queen's University

Beneath a mound of earthwork known as Navan Fort in Northern Ireland, archeologists have discovered hints of a monumental temple complex dating back to the early Iron Age. Altogether, the series of structures appear to make up the largest and most complex ritual structures found in Northern Europe from this time. 

To the naked eye, Navan Fort looks little more than a round hilltop enclosure inside another large circular mound lined by trees. Local tradition explains that this was a site created by Macha, the ancient goddess of war and fertility. Found in County Armagh of present-day Northern Ireland, the fort was viewed as the ancient capital of Ulster and one of Ireland’s royal sites, a group of five ceremonial centers of prehistoric origin found dotted across pre-Christian Ireland over 2,000 years ago.

While the site’s rich history has long been appreciated, it looks like Navan Fort may have been even larger and more significant than previously realized. 

Reported in the Oxford Journal of Archaeology, archeologists from Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Aberdeen in Scotland have recently taken a deeper look at Navan Fort using a range of non-invasive archaeological survey techniques. Differences in magnetic signatures and electrical resistance of the soil picked up on a number of features that lay hidden in the landscape beneath the ground, like footprints of long-lost ancient structures.

Magnetic Gradiometry complete survey of Navan Fort. Comparative Kingship Project/Queen's University

It was also previously assumed that the site was largely abandoned by 95 BCE, but the new findings also suggest that activity continued here throughout the Medieval era in the first millennium CE and beyond. 

“Excavation in the 1960s uncovered one of the most spectacular series of buildings of any region of prehistoric Europe, including a series of figure-of-8 buildings of the Early Iron Age and a 40-meter timber-ringed structure constructed 95 BCE. Upon the latter’s construction, it was immediately filled with stones and burnt to the ground in order to create a massive mound that now dominates the site,” Dr Patrick Gleeson, senior lecturer in Archaeology at Queen’s University Belfast, said in a statement.

“Our discoveries add significant additional data, hinting that the buildings uncovered in the 1960s were not domestic structures lived in by kings, but a series of massive temples, some of the largest and most complex ritual arena of any region of later prehistoric and pre-Roman Northern Europe,” he added. 


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