The Irish Origins of the European Megalithic Culture
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Dating the monuments:
There are three main ways in which archaeologists date megalithic structures. At
present, the most direct and accurate method being radiocarbon dating, or
carbon-14 dating. It is not possible to carbon date the stone of the structures
themselves as this technique can only be applied to organic materials, with
regards to megalithic sites this usually involves wood, bone or charcoal found
in and around the structure. Radiocarbon dating can effectively date material up
to 50,000 years old. Recent developments in radiocarbon dating, such as
Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (A.M.S), have allowed for a greater deal of
precision when dating materials.
Less direct methods of dating include examination of artefact typologies present
inside the structure, or assessment of the tomb typologies themselves.
Assessment of tomb or artefact typologies however, are based on questionable
assumptions and should not be viewed as a very reliable source of dating.
Radiocarbon dating works by measuring the concentration of the isotope C14,
which is contained in all organic materials. Since the rate of decay of C14 is a
known constant, it is possible to determine within a certain degree of accuracy
the age of the material in question. Radiocarbon dating has had a greater
influence on archaeology than any other technological advance in the field,
especially with regards to periods of prehistory where, without written records,
archaeologists could previously only speculate the age of sites. Before it was
developed archaeologists dated sites largely by guesswork and assuming
connections with other artefacts, the discovery of radiocarbon dating has proven
that many previously held beliefs of historical development were simply wrong.
Many radiocarbon results were so unexpected that archaeologists initially
questioned the accuracy of the method, however, with time, the reliability of
radiocarbon dating has been established.
Western European Origins:
The advent of radiocarbon dating has forced archaeologists to re-think the
entire the chronology of western European megalithic culture. Prior to
radiocarbon dating, it had been believed that megalithic culture had been
brought to western Europe from the Mediterranean region, however, this was
proven to be utterly false when C14 dating methods showed that the megalithic
sites of western Europe substantially predated those of the Mediterranean. Not
only that, but the monuments of western Europe were found to predate those of
Egypt and the Near Eastern cultures also, which had previously been thought to
have been the inspiration for the European megalithic builders.
The earliest dates of construction for western European megaliths are found to
be in the west of Ireland. These early dates were first put forth in the late
1970's early 1980's by a group of Swedish archaeologists led by Stefan Bergh
excavating in and around the Carrowmore megalithic complex. Initially, the very
early carbon dates produced were met with some scepticism. The accuracy of
Swedish teams findings were questioned as they seemed to shatter preconceived
notions of the progression of megalith building in Europe. With time however,
the megalithic sites of western Ireland have been proven to indeed be the oldest
such sites in Europe.
Swedish archaeologist Goran Burenhult returned to Carrowmore from 1994 - 1998 in
the hope of confirming or disproving the dates which had been put forth in the
1970's and 80's. This time however, with the aid of Accelerator Mass
Spectrometry (A.M.S), more precise dates could be obtained. Radiocarbon evidence
from the new excavations strongly support the findings of the previous campaign.
The oldest dates from the Carrowmore complex come from Tomb no. 4. A sample
taken from the foundation sockets of the stones in the cist have indicated a
date of 5400 BC. Beyond this the oldest cists elsewhere in Europe are to be
found at the so called Chamblandes cists of Switzerland and French Jura, giving
a C14 date indicating an age range between 4800 - 3300 BC.
Just beyond Carrowmore two other sites in western Ireland have produced even
earlier dates. Croaghaun in the Ox Mountains, has produced a date going back as
far as 5600 BC from samples of charcoal found in the central chamber. Samples
taken from a stone socket in Primrose Grange Tomb 1, have yielded a date of 6400
BC. Taken on their own, these extremely early dates for megalithic activity in
Ireland are sure to draw scepticism, it should be noted by the sceptic however,
that five dates from three different tombs point to activity on these sites
between 6400 and 4600 BC, far earlier than anywhere else in Europe.
These very early dates prove that the practice of constructing megalithic
monuments in Ireland began on the west coast. This culture thrived over the next
few thousand years, with the monuments growing in complexity and reaching a peak
with the awe inspiring monuments of the
Boyne Valley from 3500 BC. Furthermore,
these early dates prove that the megalithic culture of Ireland is the oldest in
Europe, and so it should not be assumed that the culture was brought to Ireland
from Britain or the European mainland, on the contrary, these findings would
seem to suggest that the megalithic culture was developed in Ireland and that
the practice was carried out from Ireland onto the continent. Not only is this
theory supported by the radiocarbon dates being produced by archaeologists, but
stepping outside the field of archaeology, a study of the evolution of archaeoastronomy and astrotheology confirm this.
It is this obligation to step outside the purely physical remnants, and into the
realm of comparative mythology, calendar systems, iconography and ritual which
critically hinders archaeologists attempts to paint a coherent picture of
pre-history. Whereas archaeologists will deal only with the physical artefacts,
it is absolutely necessary to bring together these seemingly separate fields of
study to see how this culture evolved and influenced other civilizations
throughout the world. The over-compartmentalization of historical matters has
led to a fragmented view of pre-history, and it is only now with rapidly growing
access to all streams of information that this problem is being remedied.
The European Megalithic Culture:
One of the most striking features of the European megalithic monuments, is the
fact that they simply do not appear in any greatly significant concentrations on
the European mainland, instead the great civic centres of the European
megalithic culture are to be found huddled along the Atlantic seaboard,
primarily in Ireland, Britain and Brittany. When this fact is coupled with the
extremely early carbon 14 dates obtained in the west of Ireland, dates which
make them the oldest such structures in the world, this gives a very clear
indication that Ireland was the source of the megalithic building culture.
Further proof of this is the extremely high concentrations of megalithic artwork
found upon Irish shores. The Boyne Valley in Ireland contains over 60% of all
Europe's megalithic art, with the great Neolithic temple of
more than a quarter of Europe's entire collection, making Knowth the absolute
centre of European megalithic art. In stark comparison, only a mere six British
sites feature even the slightest trace of megalithic artwork. This highlights
the Boyne Valley's status as a spiritual centre for the European megalithic
religion. At its peak, Knowth would have been considered the Cistine Chapel of
the ancient religion. Archaeological evidence has shown that people made
pilgrimages to Knowth from all over Europe.
Many of the myths and legends that surround European megalithic sites support
the theory that Ireland was the source of this culture. Throughout the early
literature a special regard is attributed to all things associated with Ireland.
Early mention of Stonehenge was made in 1135 by chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth,
who claimed that that the monument was flown by the wizard Merlin across the sea
from Ireland. Another legend claims that the stones were stolen from an Irish
woman by the Devil, and re-erected on Salisbury Plain by Merlin for Ambrosius
Aurelianus, the King of Britons.
This shows why Ireland was considered a holy or sacred island all throughout the
ancient world. It is referred to by many names throughout the ancient texts, the
sacred isle, the blessed isle, the land of saints and scholars, all of these
names took root because of Irelands position as the spiritual centre of Europe's
Neolithic people. The entire island was thought to be an astronomical temple.
The tradition of Druidry, which surely descended from the Neolithic tradition,
was held in very high esteem throughout Ancient Greece and Rome. Even the great
Pythagoras was said to have been thought by the druid, Abaris.
The Lia Fail, the ancient coronation stone of Irish kings once housed at
Co. Meath is further proof of Ireland's importance to adherents of the ancient
religion. It is said that the stone was taken from Ireland to Scotland around
513 AD so that Fergus may be crowned King of Scotland on it. It was later
transferred to the Abbey of Scone in Perth and remained there for centuries as
the inaugural stone of Scottish Kings. Sometime around 1300, English King Edward
I stole the Lia Fail, and brought it to London where it was placed under the
throne in Westminster Abbey. There it remained until 1996, at which point it was
sent back to Scotland.
The current British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, was coronated on the Lia Fail.
We should ask ourselves, why is the British monarch performing a 'pagan'
coronation ritual on the Irish coronation stone of Tara?
Interestingly, the Lia Fail is not the only curiously Hibernian feature of
Westminster Abbey, the roof of the abbey was specifically built from Irish oak,
as Irish oak was said to be sacred, further proof of Ireland's position as the
holy land of the ancients.
The Celtic Languages:
It is interesting to note that the migration and evolution of the so-called
'Celtic' languages appears to follow the proposed migration of the megalithic
culture. Gaelic is generally accepted as being the oldest form of these
languages. The Brythonic branch of the language was developed out of Gaelic in
later years, this spread to the continent, becoming what we know today as the
Gaulish language. This Brythonic branch also spread into Britain.
The three Gaelic languages still spoken today, Irish, Scottish and Manx, all
descend ultimately from primitive Irish. Gaelic is thought to be part of the
Indo-European family of languages, believed by some to be derived from a single
Indo-European parent language, though this has never been satisfactorily
identified. Most scholars have argued to place the origins of the language some
time around the third millenium BC, I would however propose a much earlier date,
tying the languages to the megalithic culture of the Atlantic seaboard.
Boyne Valley Private Day Tours
Pick up and return to your accommodation or cruise ship. Suggested day tour:
Newgrange World Heritage site, 10th century High Crosses at Monasterboice,
Hill of Tara the seat of the High Kings of Ireland, Bective Abbey and Trim Castle the largest Norman castle in Ireland