Reconstruction of wooden henge at Tara, County Meath

Tara Research Project – Fieldwork programme phase 2

Excavation and Geophysical Survey 1997-1999

Reconstruction of wooden henge at Tara, Co,. Meath the remains of which were found by geophysical survey.

Reconstruction of wooden henge at Tara, Co,. Meath the remains of which were found by geophysical survey.

Excavations at Rath na Ríogh

This phase of fieldwork and research at Tara took place between 1997-9 and consisted of a further geophysical survey as well as archaeological excavations at Rath na Ríogh. The excavations at Rath na Ríogh, directed by Helen Roche, took place between August and November 1997. Rath na Ríogh is a large enclosure which encompasses the summit of the hill of Tara and is defined by a ditch and external bank. The objective of these excavations was to re-open and extend two cuttings across the northern side of Rath na Ríogh which had originally excavated by Professor Seán P. Ó Ríordáin between 1952 and 1955. Owing to Prof Ó Róirdáin’s untimely death the results of the excavation were never published, and unfortunately only a portion of the archive survives. The aim to these excavations was to record and sample the stratigraphy in an effort to extract suitable evidence for dating purposes.

The 1997 season’s work was very rewarding and a sequence of activity that dates mainly from the Iron Age was recorded. The earliest evidence was found beneath the bank and consisted of a spread of charcoal from a furnace which appears to have been used to for iron, bronze and possibly glass working. A complete socketed iron axehead and blue glass fragments were some of the objects uncovered. Trenches, possibly the foundation trenches for associated structures, post-holes and up to 200 stake-holes were also revealed. The area of industrial activity was sealed by an old sod layer, above which the bank of Rath na Ríogh was constructed.

The excavations also revealed how imposing the original ditch for Rath na Riogh was reaching a depth of up to 3m and up to 7m in width. Animal bones, including the articulated skeletons of small animals, were found, especially in the lower fill of the ditch. A portion of a glass bracelet and a fragment of a bronze fibula were also found low in the ditch fill. The excavations confirmed the dating of the enclosure of Rath na Ríogh to the first century BC. You can read more about these excavations in Discovery Programme reports 6


Excavations at Rath Na Ríogh (photo by C. Brogan reproduced from Roche, H. 'Excavations at Ráith na Ríg, Tara, Co. Meath, 1997' DPR 6 (Dublin, 2002) pp18-82, pl.3)

Geophysical Survey

Another programme of geophysical survey was undertaken during this phase at fieldwork at the Hill of Tara. This survey was conducted in 1997 by archaeologists from the Discovery Programme and NUI Galway.

The highlight of this programme of geophysical survey was the discovery of a very large and impressive new enclosure. It appears on the result of the geo-physical survey as two rows of regularly spaced pits on either side of a fosse.

It has been identified as a henge, a  3m wide ditch flanked on either side  by approximately three hundred regularly spaced post holes and is comparable in size to Croke Park in Dublin. It may be dated to the Neolithic or Early Bronze Age (c.2500BC). A huge number of trees were transported to the site and set upright in pit. This monument was clearly ceremonial in nature. It is similar to pit circles discovered at Brú and Bóinne and Ballynahatty, Co. Antrim. The Rath of the Synods lies close to its centre, the henge is intersected by the Iron Age Ráith na Rí enclosure and it includes the Mound of the Hostages within its enclosure.


You can read more about this survey in Discovery Programme reports 6

The ditched pit circle or henge identified by geophysical survey at Tara in 1997-8
The ditched pit circle or henge identified by geophysical survey at Tara in 1997-8. (Reproduced from Fenwick, J and Newman, C. 'Geomagnetic Survey on the Hill of Tara, Co. Meath, 1997)' DPR 6 (Dublin, 2002) pp1-18, Fig. 2))

Rath na Ríogh

Rath na Ríogh