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Established 16/3/2000

Carrowmore should be World Heritage site – BBC Expert

Malcolm Billings opened this year’s Ballymote Heritage Week-end. He recalled how he had been associated with the inception of the Heritage Group, having given a lecture on the First Crusade at one of the first meetings, 20 years ago.

He also mentioned how he had explored the archaeology of Sligo with Pat Kitchin, at a time when the Carrowmore Cemetery was under threat from quarrying and rubbish dumping.

Sunset viewed from inside the chamber of Cairn G

A photo of the sunset viewed through the roofbox of Cairn G. Photo credit: The Sacred Island.

"The work of the Heritage Group committee is outstanding and it defies belief that for 15 years they have never missed holding their monthly meeting to plan for the next action-packed heritage week-end", he said.

In his opening remarks Malcolm pointed out that the Megalithic Cemetery at Carrowmore was now recognised as being of international importance. Scientific excavations of the monuments by the Swedish archaeologist Uren Burenhalt, revealed that Sligo’s stone circles and passage graves pre-dated the tombs of the Valley of the Boyne by 2-3 thousand years. The concentration of monuments on the edge of Sligo Town is one of the largest megalithic cemeteries in Europe.

"Perhaps", Billings opined, "it’s time for this collection of monuments, including Knocknarea, to be brought to the attention of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee. After all, Ireland has only a handful of World Heritage sites and Carrowmore would certainly fit the criteria."

Herculaneum – the Roman town on the Bay of Naples that was destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 – was the subject of the illustrated lecture by Malcolm Billings. He explained that he had gathered the material from a recent visit to the site to make a documentary for BBC the World Service.

Herculaneum, often overlooked by tourists rushing through the streets of Pompeii, is a unique Roman site because of the preservation of organic material such as timber lintels, doors and furniture. Glass also survives in places, and the "suburban" bath complex is the best-preserved bath house in the Roman world. But Herculaneum has been badly neglected; walls have collapsed, wooden doors are disintegrating and tiled roofs have fallen in. The weather has eroded mosaic pavements, and frescos on exposed walls are fading fast.

Billings, however, was able to report that a new international conservation project has begun using funds from the American Packard Foundation and the Italian antiquities authority. Billings also drew the audience’s attention to the search for a library of classical books believed to lie under 25 metres of volcanic mud – buried at the time of the eruption almost 2000 years ago.

The lecture ended with some new information about the fate of people in Herculaneum trying to escape from the effects of the volcano. "They were hit by a hurricane of gas and ash which scientists have recently estimated at about 500 degrees centigrade, which, in a matter of seconds, stripped the flesh off their bones and boiled their brains".


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