U.K. archeologists are crediting a drought and a drone for the discovery of an ancient structure in Ireland, which first appeared as an outline under a parched farmer’s field.
The structure was spotted this week by drone enthusiasts recording footage over the Newgrange historic site in Boyne Valley, County Meath. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to several 5,000-year-old circular structures from the Neolithic era, many of which remain buried underground.
Photos from the air show the structure as a circular outline under a farmer’s field, with the ditch-and-upright architecture of a prehistoric henge, such as Stonehenge.
“Nobody knew it was there,” said archeologist Stephen Davis.
The monument was likely built around 3000 BCE along with the other structures at the site, according to Davis, who teaches at University College Dublin. He’s also been studying the site for several years.
“When it was standing, what you would’ve seen was two large rings of timber posts, and maybe a very low bank, and then this segmented ditch,” Davis said.
Ireland has been suffering through a historically hot, dry summer, which helped expose the structure where it lay hidden beneath a farmer’s tilled field.
Davis says the buried structure caused the drought-stricken plants above ground to ripen at different rates, because the earth was deeper in some places than in others. This created a green-and-brown pattern in the plants that corresponded to the buried ruins.
“The detail we’re seeing is pretty unprecedented, and it might not happen again for decades,” Davis said.
“You wouldn’t see this from the ground,” he added. “You’d only see it from the air.”
The most famous structure at Newgrange is the stone-rimmed, grass-domed mound known as Site P. The structure is centred around an ancient stone tomb, although the tomb predates the rest of the monument.
The newly-discovered monument was close to Site P.
Newgrange is believed to be about 100 years older than Stonehenge, although the newest discovery might have been built slightly later.
Many of the structures at the Newgrange are over 200 metres wide, and may have been used as festivals or marketplaces, Davis said.
“You could put … thousands of people in them, but we just don’t really know what they were doing here,” he said.
He adds this latest discovery will stay buried for the foreseeable future, out of respect for the farmer who owns the land.
Davis suspects there are other structures in the area that have yet to be found.
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