The new henge of Newgrange - a once-in-a-lifetime discovery

Mythical Ireland founder Anthony Murphy and Ken Williams of Shadows & Stone photography together discovered a huge monument in the Brú na Bóinne UNESCO world heritage site near Newgrange on 10th July 2018. Here, Anthony penned his thoughts a few days after the momentous discovery.

What a week! Only now, on Saturday evening, am I finding time to take a breath and to write about the remarkable discovery I made with Ken Williams last Tuesday evening, July 10th.

The reason for my delay writing a blog post for my own website about this momentous discovery is simply that I have spent the intervening period speaking to the world's media. News of the revelation was first reported by local radio station LMFM on Wednesday morning. By that time, my Mythical Ireland Facebook post about the discovery had already gone viral.

By now, the story about how the discovery was made has been told in detail. I was flying my drone over the Boyne valley, as I do on regular occasions. I had it in the back of my mind that some previously unrecorded archaeological sites had been revealed due to the drought conditions in Britain. I hadn't the faintest expectation that I would find anything new, but prompted by archaeologist Steve Davis of UCD, I did intend to fly over Site P, a recorded henge or embanked enclosure near the Boyne south of Newgrange. The parched grass might reveal previously unseen features.

My image of the excavation near Newgrange, taken Monday. The new henge would have been visible if I turned the drone around!

There are some interesting coincidences involved in this discovery. The previous day, I had flown the drone to capture images of an archaeological dig taking place close to Newgrange, led by Geraldine and Matthew Stout. Little did I know that within 24 hours I would make the archaeological discovery of a lifetime close by. In fact, on Monday I didn't have a long flight, and only took a few photos. The find of the century was missed - but only for another day.

All day on Tuesday, something was nagging at me. My own thoughts were niggling at me. "I will have to go out and fly again tonight," I said to myself. Gut feelings and all that. I knew it was important.

On Monday, during the day, I had decided to tackle a long-running water issue in our house. We had a drought of sorts. Our water had been running out prematurely for months. After a short time of use, the washing machine would stop because the water tank would empty. After just one or two showers, the water would be gone. Upon investigation, I found that the ballcock valve feeding the water tank in the attic was clogged with limescale. So I decided to replace it. And the water flowed, at a much higher rate than before. This might seem insignificant, but drought and water are CENTRAL to the discovery that I was to make next evening.

Site P on Tuesday evening.

On Tuesday evening, I brought the drone out to the valley and set up to fly. Just as I was about to launch, by coincidence my good friend and fellow photographer Ken Williams arrived. He had been at Newgrange taking photos and he also had his drone with him. I launched my drone, and he soon followed with his. There were some interesting markings in the field around site A, a mound with an enclosure or henge around it. We were flying around for a while taking photos of these features. My drone started to get low on battery, so I brought it back and landed.

When I had changed the battery, I resolved to do another flight, but this time down towards Site P. It was while flying towards Site P on a second circuit of it that I caught a glimpse of what looked like a big broken circle in the crop field to the west of it. I flew a bit closer. Fairly quickly I got a glimpse of what seemed to be outer rings of dots......

I let out a loud exclamation. "What the f*ck is this?" (This, for obvious reasons, has been reported to the media as "what the hell is this?")

Ken came rushing over, but his drone controller interfered with mine so he couldn't see what was on my screen. He moved away, by about 15ft.

"What is it?" he asked.

"A huge circle in the field west of Site P," I said. I started taking photos of it while he moved his drone in that direction. We coordinated our altitudes together so that there was no danger of a midair collision. (The maximum permissable altitude for drones in Ireland is 120m (400ft)).

One of the first images of the new henge to be revealed to the world.

Pretty soon Ken was letting out exclamations of his own! For the next 10 or 15 minutes, we flew around the feature taking photos. We noticed several other features of interest. Immediately to the west of the "new henge" was what appeared to be another large enclosure. And in the far northeast of the field some more circles. And close to the lake and trees, just to the north of them, a mottled landscape of dark and bright features.

We knew fairly quickly that what we were seeing was something very special. And huge. We are both familiar with the recorded monuments of the Bend of the Boyne, and we know that nothing of this size had been recorded in that field previously. Astonished and giggling with excitement, we landed the drones.

Upon landing, we were keen to send some images to some archaeologists. Screen shots were taken and messages were sent. Pretty soon, we were getting very excited reaction. Yes indeed, it could be a henge.

We decided to come back to my house to process the images on our computers and to see the detail on a larger monitor. When we saw them in greater detail, we were giggling again. There were many "wows" and similar exclamations. And maybe a swear word or two.

Ken Williams (left) and I in a photo taken at my house on Tuesday evening as we processed images of the new henge. © Ken Williams.

What has followed from that can only be described as a media storm of interest. I shared the photos on Facebook. They went viral. On Wednesday, the phone started ringing. The Irish national media had taken an interest. By Wednesday afternoon, we were in UCD with Steve Davis being interviewed by Philip Bromwell of RTE for the main Six One News on RTE televison. All the papers were reporting on it, first on their websites and then the next day in their print editions.

With stories like this, you'd normally expect things to die down after a day or two, but by Thursday and Friday the international media were taking interest. First BBC Ulster. Then BBC London. Then the New York Times. And the Washington Post. Then El Pais in Madrid. The TV networks in the US got hold of it and soon it was on CNN, ABC News and NBC. Since then, we've been on Al Jazeera and in Scandinavian media.

On Wednesday evening, I got a call from Michael McDonagh, Chief Archaeologist with the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, congratulating me on the discovery. Heritage Minister Josepha Madigan also tweeted about the discovery, and passed on her congratulations.

There was a massive, and it has to be said very warm, reaction on social media. I am completely inundated with messages on Facebook and by email. It could be several weeks before I get around to reading and replying to them all. Many people are asking me to bring my drone to their area, where they think new monuments are waiting to be discovered.

Amid all this frenetic activity, I had to work at my day job. I'm a subeditor and graphic designer with the Irish Farmers Journal. They picked up the story and ran with the angle that one of their own had made a big discovery, which was lovely.

In all honesty, it's going to take some time to process this. Archaeologists are calling it a once-in-a-lifetime find. The last time drought conditions like this might have allowed such features to be visible was in 1976. We are told the Boyne Valley now has the largest concentration of late Neolithic henge monuments anywhere in the world.

The reason it has become visible now, in the drought, is connected with the drought, and water supply (hence the reason I mention the plumbing at home!) The process by which the archaeology has become visible in the crops is perhaps best understood by listening to my interview with Pat Kenny on Newstalk:

My reaction to this discovery is obviously one of great joy, satisfaction and gratitude. I'm grateful that this 4,500-year-old monument revealed itself to my drone. I've been writing about the Boyne valley monuments and their myths for 19 years now. It's a great passion of mine. I'm immensely satisfied to have made a discovery of this magnitude, and equally grateful that I shared it with Ken Williams, who has been a passionate researcher and photographer of these wonderful monuments for many years now. It was a fabulous reward and recognition for all that work. And when I say work, I really mean "hobby". Because this is largely unpaid work. We do it because we love doing it.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be involved in a revelation of this magnitude, in the Boyne Valley, right there in the UNESCO world heritage site that has been under so much scrutiny from archaeologists for decades. Never in a million years would I have even thought it possible.

And yet, out of the dry crops, following a period of drought, there has emerged an almost pristine image of a gigantic ancient monument, yet another testament to the ingenuity, zeal, dedication and hard work of distant ancestors.

Thank you. Thank you sincerely for this wonderful revelation. 

Newgrange Farm:

Visit the website of Newgrange Farm, where the henge is located. Newgrange Farm is Ireland's leading genuine working farm open to the public. It is a family owned and run working farm and educational facility.

News reports of the discovery:

Irish Independent: Massive unknown 'henge' at Newgrange discovered - thanks to drought and drone

Irish Examiner: Drone footage shows 'henge' uncovered by heatwave near Newgrange

TheJournal.ie: Recent drought led to archaeological discovery of circular enclosure near Newgrange

Irish Times: Scorched earth during heatwave reveals new monument at Newgrange

Newsweek: Mysterious ancient monument revealed by drought in Ireland

New York Times: Drought and Drone Reveal ‘Once-in-a-Lifetime’ Signs of Ancient Henge in Ireland

And here's the interview with Gerry Kelly of LMFM radio about the find:

 

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This page was last updated on 13th December 2018 @ 7:16 PM