Further details of Brú na Bóinne aerial survey released

Date Released: Thursday, December 20, 2018

Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht releases further details of archaeological discoveries at Newgrange within the World Heritage Site of Brú na Bóinne

To mark the winter solstice when the rising sun illuminates the burial chamber of the Great Passage Tomb of Newgrange, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has today (21 December) released further details of the archaeological discoveries made this year within the World Heritage Site of Brú na Bóinne, close to Newgrange Passage Tomb.

The Archaeology of the Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site – Interim Report, December 2018 (PDF, 18.5 MB)

Josepha Madigan, T.D., Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, has hailed the new information being released:

“This new information is a graphic illustration of the extent and density of ritual and ceremonial sites associated with the Newgrange Passage Tomb. As we celebrate this week the phenomenon of the winter solstice sunrise illuminating the burial chamber of the passage tomb at Newgrange, this stunning new archaeological information provides fresh, spectacular and unique insights into the origins and development of the Neolithic landscape and society.”

During the very dry summer of 2018, remarkable details of stunning archaeological monuments became visible for the first time as cropmarks in the parched fields of the River Boyne floodplain. The detail of these ancient monuments was unprecedented, offering a rarely seen insight into prehistoric ritual and architecture.  

In an Interim Report released today (see link at top of this page), the National Monuments Service has revealed the results of its analysis of aerial reconnaissance it carried out following the initial discoveries in July, and which received global attention at the time. The report details new information on the significant discoveries, informed by an analysis of high resolution aerial photography.

The new information reinforces the remarkable level of ceremonial and ritual use of the landscape around Newgrange during the prehistoric period up to 5,000 years.  Immense enclosures of timber uprights and large ceremonial henges have been identified on the floodplain in the shadow of Newgrange passage tomb. These monuments, visible only fleetingly as cropmarks during the dry summer, clearly form a deliberately structured and ritual landscape of great significance. 

The discoveries raise many questions and it is the Department’s intention that the release of this information will provide a basis for a solid and refreshed research framework to be implemented in coming years in line with the aims of the Brú na Bóinne UNESCO Management Plan.

Minister Madigan added: “These remarkable archaeological discoveries are a significant reinforcement of the UNESCO World Heritage inscription and will transform our understanding of Brú na Bóinne. It is wonderful new knowledge for the OPW’s Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre, which is being redeveloped with the support of my Department and Fáilte Ireland which will let us tell the ancient story of this wonderful landscape to an international audience and help attract an increased numbers of tourists to the area, contributing to the local economy.”

“These discoveries will inspire much interest and will attract further research and interpretation. My Department looks forward to working with the landowners and academic institutes and researchers in the years ahead on ensuring the secrets these sites still hold are revealed.”


Media queries:

Press and Information Office,
Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht

Tel: 087 6737338 / (01) 631 3807 / 3838 / 3848/ 3803 (direct)
Twitter: @DeptAHG

Notes to Editors

  • The Interim Brú na Bóinne Discovery Report is available on the website of the National Monuments Service of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht at
  • The discovery of a large enclosure within the Brú na Bóinne UNESCO World Heritage Site at Newgrange during the summer of 2018 garnered worldwide media interest. The large ceremonial enclosure, or henge, discovered in July by Boyne Valley researchers and photographers Anthony Murphy and Ken Williams showed up clearly on drone cameras as a cropmark in open farmland. These cropmarks which appeared on account of the very dry summer weather, indicate the presence of buried archaeological features. 
  • Following that initial discovery, the National Monuments Service carried out an aerial reconnaissance survey with the assistance of the Irish Air Corps. A large number of photographs taken during that survey have been analysed by NMS over recent months and the results of that specialist archaeological analysis are presented in this interim report. 
  • The discoveries are on private land and are not accessible to the public.
  • All new information will be added to the Sites and Monuments Record in coming weeks. 
  • To inform a refreshed research framework, the National Monuments Service will be arranging a meeting of academic stakeholders in early 2019 to prompt research questions around the new archaeological information. 


Report Introduction

This interim report presents details of archaeological discoveries that were made in the course of aerial survey carried out at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Brú na Bóinne in July and August 2018.

The near-drought conditions in June and July 2018 created a rare opportunity to record and analyse evidence for subsurface archaeological remains that were not previously known or suspected. The conditions also provided previously undetected detail of various monuments which were already in the archaeological record.

Initial discoveries of cropmark enclosures at Newgrange and in the vicinity of the River Boyne were reported by drone pilots Anthony Murphy and Ken Williams in July. Following those reports, the National Monuments Service of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht carried out a programme of aerial reconnaissance to survey and record in detail the archaeological features.

As a first step in the analysis, a comprehensive record has been created of the transient cropmark features that were brought to light during the unusual climatic conditions which characterised the summer of 2018. This has brought us close up with the sophistication of Neolithic communities – the people who gathered at Brú na Bóinne and who expressed their religious beliefs in the landscape dominated by the great passage tombs of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth.

This interim report presents an overview of the aerial survey analysis, illustrated with examples of the monuments and structures that have been identified. Part 1 briefly provides some background context to these discoveries and the archaeological landscape. Part 2 presents an overview of a particular field on the floodplain terraces (The Cropmark Field) where the cropmarks provide evidence of spectacular monuments and also details of sites and features that do not normally appear on aerial photographs or indeed in the archaeological record in Ireland. Part 3 presents preliminary information on sites that identified in the eastern area of the Newgrange floodplain. 

Geographic Information System (GIS) has been used to organise views of the landscape across maps, photographs and drawings of the cropmarks that have been identified to date. The locations of the newly identified sites were also visited in the field to enable a better understanding of the topographical locations and the physical and visual relationships between the sites.

Our work will continue of analysing the aerial images, mapping the features and interpreting their significance within the context of the World Heritage Site. This process also involves a review of other aerial photographs available to us and a review of the archaeological literature for Brú na Bóinne which is considerable given the wealth of research that has been carried out there by so many. We have also availed of historic imagery to supplement our research and provide background imagery for our presentation as well as more recent aerial coverage of the Brú na Bóinne landscape in June 2018 provided by Bluesky International Ltd.

In time, further analysis will bring in other important sites within and in the environs of the UNESCO Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site. It is our intention in 2019 to convene a meeting of stakeholders with interest in the research and archaeology of Brú na Bóinne and coordinate a fresh approach to the future research which these sites demand.  

These discoveries are on private land and are published here with the agreement of the landowners whose careful custodianship of the landscape will continue and for which we are very grateful.


Michael MacDonagh
Chief Archaeologist
National Monuments Service
Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht

December 2018