In Ireland, Drought And A Drone Revealed The Outline Of An Ancient Henge
July 14, 2018 5:10 AM   Subscribe

A lingering dry spell has exposed a previously unknown monument in Ireland's Boyne Valley... archaeologists confirmed the footprint of an ancient henge, or enclosure, that may be some 4,500 years old. Ireland is famously green... But this summer it's been gripped by an unusual heatwave and a lengthy dry spell. Crops are fading in the drought. And the unusual weather circumstances made the remarkable photos possible. In normal weather, the difference is undetectable — that's why Murphy had flown drones overhead before without noticing it. And even in a drought, it's too subtle to see from the ground. But combine the dry spell with the aerial view, and suddenly the outline is obvious.

More research would be needed to determine the precise age and construction of this newly discovered henge. The BBC reports that it is located on private land and there are currently no plans to excavate.

"The last time we had a drought, a spell where we had no rain for this long, was in 1976," he said. "And of course in 1976, there was no such thing as drones, and there was much less emphasis on aerial photography or aerial archaeology ... " And then, he says, there was the sheer luck of having a grainfield right on top of the remains of the henge. "If there was just ordinary grass in that field," he says, "this thing would never have shown."
posted by I_Love_Bananas (27 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Is this archaeology day on Metafilter? I really hope it is!
posted by Helga-woo at 5:18 AM on July 14 [11 favorites]

Those maniacs actually did build a strawhenge!
posted by Silentgoldfish at 5:53 AM on July 14

No one knows who they were, or what ... they were doing.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:12 AM on July 14 [15 favorites]

Or how they built a henge out of meat.
posted by homunculus at 6:22 AM on July 14

I love this little peek of ancient times (it was the druids!) showing through to us modern folk.

I sincerely hope that after climate change runs its course that the Irish Immortan Joe chooses the Boyne Valley as their seat of power; the area is rife with history.
posted by SonInLawOfSam at 6:49 AM on July 14 [3 favorites]

Thank you RobotVoodooPower.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 6:54 AM on July 14 [2 favorites]

Last week on Metafilter: visit Wales where the drought is causing iron age and Roman settlements to be newly visible.
posted by Nelson at 7:50 AM on July 14 [2 favorites]

The people who succeed us thousands of years from now will discover all those elaborate highways and cloverleaf exits and entrances under the soil and marvel at the weird ritual that must have been behind it all. "Where did they think they were marching? To what purpose? At the ends of these vast converging roads there is nothing but the sea."
posted by pracowity at 8:28 AM on July 14 [10 favorites]

Yup, that's a henge all right.

What I love is that "henge" is a backformed word with no known etymology. Everyone knew about Stonehenge, and the thought process went something like "It's made of stone, but what's a henge? It must be whatever this is." And now "henge" applies to all similar constructions, despite nobody knowing what the word actually means.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:30 AM on July 14 [21 favorites]

In the comments to one of the links in the "Last week on Metafilter" someone says:

"As a teenager I always wanted to be a Luftbildarchäologe", which is a nice German word for Aerial Archeologist.

Luftbildarchäologie: the study of droughts with drones.
posted by eye of newt at 8:31 AM on July 14 [2 favorites]

The article last week didn't explain the mechanism of the effect, but this one does - the pits have a different soil composition and retain more moisture. I'm glad for the additional details.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:32 AM on July 14 [4 favorites]

I'm always amazed that these footprints are still visible after centuries of tilling and planting and lord know whatever else has gone on to disturb and mix the soil.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:38 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]

I am contemplating a post about aerial archaeology in all it's forms, since the parchmarks have been so popular here this last week. Need to dig out some links :-)
posted by Helga-woo at 8:55 AM on July 14 [8 favorites]

i feel motivated to bake and construct a minor buttery biscuithenge
posted by poffin boffin at 9:07 AM on July 14 [17 favorites]

I'm always amazed that these footprints are still visible after centuries of tilling and planting and lord know whatever else has gone on to disturb and mix the soil.

Yes, it's like a cool magic trick, but I guess once the disturbance is buried beneath the normal tilling depth, it's safely isolated from generations of farmers scratching away year after year at the surface, but it can still cause a change in water quantity or soil composition that visibly affects the growth of plants above the disturbance.

The question is how long does it take to accumulate a protective cover deeper than an animal-drawn plough typically gouges into soil. Not very long, I think is the answer, but I have lost a link I had that said something simple like how many centimeters of dust per year. And if you're looking at something like post holes or ditches that have been filled in, the disturbances are probably deep enough to dodge the farmer right from the beginning.
posted by pracowity at 10:07 AM on July 14 [2 favorites]

On a less impressive scale - having read about this my eye was drawn to a parched circle in my local park which, having looked at old maps online, turns out to be on the spot of an old bandstand.
posted by gnuhavenpier at 11:03 AM on July 14 [14 favorites]

I read recently that the original builders of Stonehenge were blue-eyed and dark-skinned, but apparently were almost completely displaced by people probably from the Netherlands ~4500 years ago.

Be interesting to know which of these two peoples built this -- if indeed it was either one.
posted by jamjam at 11:31 AM on July 14

i feel motivated to bake and construct a minor buttery biscuithenge

I in turn feel motivated to consume it
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 11:53 AM on July 14 [2 favorites]

An abnormal heatwave causes the unexpected discovery of a mysterious prehistoric monument... that must be the premise of at least one Lovecraft story, right?
posted by jv776 at 12:59 PM on July 14 [3 favorites]

A year or two after I bought my house - a late 40s bungalow on a double lot - during a particularly dry summer, I noticed the grass was browning more quickly on an area about 8 feet wide from the sidewalk in the right of way up to the front walk. After poking around a bit (literally, with a metal skewer) and consulting historic aerials, I determined that the original driveway is still under there, from the right of way all the way up the side of the house. Apparently whoever purchased the lot next door and put the garage and new driveway there never bothered to break up the old one, just covered it over. This means there is an eight foot wide area of my front planting bed that can only have shallow-rooted plants.
posted by Preserver at 2:59 PM on July 14 [1 favorite]

Oooh, I love a good henge.
posted by KazamaSmokers at 3:04 PM on July 14

Meh. I don't trust any picture of a henge without something for scale.
posted by nestor_makhno at 3:15 PM on July 14 [3 favorites]

Well that's just amazingly cool.
posted by Windopaene at 9:52 PM on July 14

Meh. I don't trust any picture of a henge without something for scale.

Brú na Bóinne was an inside job!
posted by ActingTheGoat at 9:52 PM on July 14

There’s some more info available here on the discovery, as well as some more features found in the area. It includes some sizes - the henge is about 150m in diameter, for example.
posted by scorbet at 3:36 AM on July 16

A collection of dry weather archaeology stories in this twitter thread by Katherine McDonald, includes a handy diagram to explain how it happens.
posted by Helga-woo at 4:57 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]

In continuing Brú na Bóinne archaeological news, a 5500 year old passage tomb Has been discovered at an excavation at Dowth Hall.

Dr Clíodhna Ní Lionáin, Devenish's lead archaeologist for the project said: "For the archaeologists involved in this discovery, it is truly the find of a lifetime.".
posted by scorbet at 6:48 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]

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