As we come to the end of 2018, Mythical Ireland's Anthony Murphy recalls the moment when he discovered a previously unrecorded late Neolithic henge monument near Newgrange with his drone, in company with Ken Williams.
Time stamp 20:47:14, Tuesday 10th July 2018. This is the moment that not only changed my life - it is a moment that dramatically changed our understanding of the complexity of the Brú na Bóinne monumental landscape.
I had been flying my drone for 24 minutes, since 8.23pm. Just as I had taken off, my friend Ken Williams arrived. His car appears in the first shots I took as I launched the drone that fateful evening.
My first flight - which lasted until I started to get a low battery warning at 30% battery - consisted of sweeps over the monuments on Newgrange Farm. I took shots of Newgrange itself and the U-shaped cursus, and then I took photos of Site A with its denuded henge and the largely destroyed Site U. But Site P, the large embanked henge near the river, was the main target. I made several circuits of Site P, capturing detail that I had never seen before, detail which had become apparent because of the drought. It had hardly rained a drop since early May. Two months and no rainfall left a parched landscape.
With hindsight, I know that the new henge had appeared in some of those images, but I couldn't see it, largely due to the fact that I was using a smartphone on the drone controller and I hadn't been able to make it out in the background on my small screen.
After landing the drone and replacing the battery, I took to the air again. Looking through my photos from that night, I can see the sequence. I took a few photos of Newgrange, making a circuit of the monument which looked quite parched. Then I flew directly over the excavation trench at the cursus monument which was being excavated in July by Matthew and Geraldine Stout. The next image in the sequence shows Site P again - I was going back for another look.
It was at this moment that I turned the drone right (westwards) and caught my first glimpse of the new henge. Within moments, I had shouted out "what the heck is that" (or something similar) and caught Ken Williams' attention. I'm not sure whether I had already taken this image at that point, but the two things came very close together - me shouting, and clicking the shutter button. 8.47pm and 14 seconds. A moment that changed everything.
There are three images of the new henge in sequence - this one shown at the top of the page is the very first photo of it. In the other two images (see sequence below), the drone has moved closer and the henge is larger. The next image in the sequence reveals what happened next. Ken had come rushing over to have a look at what I was seeing on my screen. However, his drone controller interfered with mine so my screen went blank and I could not see anything. He said "what are you seeing?" I said "a huge circular structure in the field west of Site P". He moved away, to try to remove the interference, and when he had done so I found my drone was pointing in the opposite direction. The next photo in sequence shows the field east of the henge field, and I remember that it took me about ten or fifteen seconds to regain control of the drone, which seemed to be slow to respond to my inputs.
After regaining control, I flew closer to the new henge and took more photos. At this stage, Ken had seen it with his drone and was making excited exclamations as he also took photos of it. I remember that we coordinated our altitudes - I shouted out my altitude and he came a little lower so that there would be no risk of a midair collision. For the following 11 minutes, we flew around the area, noticing other features, including the henge site LP2, and the grooved ware four-poster circle in the northeast of the field. There were wide arcs of pits and mottled features, among many other things that appeared in our images that night. The greatest excitement, of course, was reserved for the new henge. And we knew that's what it was. And we also knew what an exciting and major discovery this was.
Upon landing, we contacted some archaeologist friends on the phone. We couldn't contain our excitement. They confirmed what we already knew. This was likely to be a henge, and a major discovery. We soon decided to head to my house, to examine the images on computers. While doing that, we reached a decision. We should share the images on social media. Knowing that someone else could fly over the area and see these features, we shared the images on Facebook. Within ten minutes, they had gone viral. The next morning, the first of the media calls came. LMFM radio rang at 7.30am. Later that day we were on RTE national television. And from there, the story went on to make headlines all around the world, on British TV, on European TV and media, and in the United States, Australia and even Japan.
Before 2018 closes, I want to record (again!) the excitement of being involved in one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the modern era. It was an incredible moment. And following on from our discoveries, the National Monuments Service has put together a comprehensive document revealing the enormity of what we found. Researchers and archaeologists will be working for decades on all of this to piece together what is clearly a much more comprehensive and extraordinary prehistoric landscape than anyone could have previously envisaged.
A lot of things were involved in this discovery. There was the drought of course - the first such prolonged dry spell since 1976. There was drone technology, something that didn't exist just seven or eight years ago. And of course there was the tenacity of two enthusiastic photographers and researchers, two Drogheda men who had devoted half a lifetime to the study of the ancient landscape.
8.47pm and 14 seconds. Tuesday 10th July 2018. A moment of history. A moment of revelation. A moment to savour for the rest of my days.
Here's a report from Japanese TV station Fuji TV into the discovery. As you can see, they were very enthusiastic about it.
The discoveries also came to the notice of the Irish heritage minister, who tweeted about it:
Read the initial July 2018 blog post about the discoveries HERE.
Enter the ‘Ancient Sites’ section of this blog for a fascinating and wide-ranging exploration of the megalithic and sacred sites of Ireland. Find out all about the Stone Age and prehistoric ruins and learn more about the possible functions and alignments of these sites. Visit the great temples of Brú na Bóinne, the Hill of Tara, the ancient cairns of Loughcrew among many others.
Explore the ancient myths, legends and folklore of Ireland and their meaning. Read the epic Táin Bó Cuailnge, or the place-name myths in the Dindshenchas. Learn about how the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Milesians came to Ireland and how the early texts describe various invasions of prehistoric Éire. Hear about Fionn and the Fianna, and discover how some myths might contain information about astronomy and the stars.
There is no doubt that the ancient megalith builders had a substantial knowledge of the movements of the sun, moon, planets and stars through the heavens. Learn more about just how complex and impressive this knowledge was. There is evidence that the people of the Neolithic knew about the 19-year Metonic cycle of the moon, as well as being able to predict eclipses.