Photographer Anthony Murphy discovered something unusual in Newgrange, a famous prehistoric stone monument in Ireland’s County Meath – the ruins of an ancient circle in a field normally used to grow crops. The field, which has been covered by crops in the country’s Boyne Valley, is exposed in a different way because of this year’s massive drought.
“When we saw this, we knew straight away, this had never been seen or recorded before,” Murphy told NPR. He and another drone photographer, Ken Williams, immediately sent their pictures to archaeologists.
The archaeologists confirmed Murphy and Williams’ suspicions: they’d discovered the footprint of an ancient henge that could be as much as 4.500 years old.
There are already a number of other ancient and prehistoric monuments in the area, which is designated as a World Heritage Site. The region has long been a subject of study for archaeologists, but this particular henge had been hidden by crops for so long that nobody knew it was there.
This year, there’s been a long dry spell in the notoriously green space – and the crops have faded thanks to the drought. That’s what made the photos possible.
“In the late Neolithic, people would have built this henge out of timber. Over time, when the monument fell out of use, the wood all rots away and the holes kind of fill up with organic material. But they leave a sort of fingerprint, or a footprint,” Murphy says. “Those filled-in holes retain a slight amount more moisture than the surrounding soil.”
From the ground, even during a drought, it’s impossible to identify the henge. However, it’s a different story from the air, where the outline is obvious.
Henges are specific to the Neolithic period, and they’re typically circular or oval-shaped. Each usually featured an internal ditch surrounding a central area, and had upright posts made from stone or wood.
It’s an interesting discovery, but because it’s on private property, it might not be further explored.
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