Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Around 40 megalithic tombs stand on the peninsula today, there may once have been as many as 200 before post-medieval quarrying removed them. The tombs were built in a ring surrounding the largest monument called Listoghil, their entrances usually facing inwards towards it.
Radiocarbon dates from the long-running survey and excavation project run by Stockholm University suggest the earliest of the tombs were built around 5,400 BC which would make then older than more famous Irish prehistoric sites such as Knowth and Newgrange. These findings have caused controversy amongst Irish archaeologists, some of whom consider the dating to apply to earlier, Mesolithic activity in the area rather than the Neolithic farming societies with which megalithic sites are usually associated. Supporters of the early dates however point to similarly ancient dates attributed to chamber tombs in Brittany where Mesolithic microliths have been found in association with at least one passage grave.
Further radiocarbon dating has supported the mesolithic date for Carrowmore's inception but places the bulk of the megalith building to between 4300 and 3500 BC, more in keeping with Neolithic dating but still unusually early. Excavation of other tombs in the area has indicated that although they employed different architectural styles, they were all contemporary with Carrowmore.
Earlier theories suggested that the different types of chamber tomb in Ireland represented different phases of development or different cultures. The work at Carrowmore argues strongly against this and the archaeologists from Stockholm suggest the different monument types represent tombs for the dead of different groups within the local society.
Almost all the burials at Carrowmore were cremations with inhumations being only found at Listoghil. Even from the cremated remains it is apparent that the dead underwent a complex sequence of teatments, including excarnation and reburial. Grave goods include antler pins with mushroom-shaped heads and stone or clay balls although other tombs outside Carrowmore held entirely different assemblages of items.
The role of megalithic tombs as markers on the landscape and symbolic representations of power has long been considered even more important that their function as a repository for the dead. The prominent positions of the Carrowmore tombs means they were likely designed to be seen from afar.
The Carrowmore tombs were covered with stone cairns and most have three apses or cells leading off from from the entrance passage in a cruciform plan. Roofs were of stone slabs or corbelled. The right hand sides of the tombs appear to have had special significance being built from often quite exotic materials such as quartz and quartzite. Kerbs often surround the tombs themselves.
Tombs for Hunters, Burenhult, G, British Archaeology 82, 2005, pp22-27
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