The discovery, revealed yesterday by Swedish archaeologists at Carrowmore, Co Sligo in Ireland, is being met with a mixture of excitement, astonishment and scepticism by pre-historians.
Carbon dating tests carried out on samples from the site suggest that Stone Age hunter-gatherers were building small, roofed stone tombs surrounded by stone circles 7,400 years ago. This is at least 700 years earlier than what had previously been thought the earliest free-standing stone architecture in Western Europe - a Neolithic tomb at Bougon near Poitiers in France. The excavation and other archaeological work at Carrowmore, directed by Goran Burenhult of the University of Stockholm, is exciting scientists not just because of its age but also the economic and cultural environment in which it was apparently built. The tomb and stone circles would have to have been built by early Irish populations hundreds of years before agriculture reached mainland Britain or Ireland.
Archaeologists refer to this pre-agricultural (pre Neolithic) era as the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) and no free-standing stone architecture from that period has ever been discovered in Western Europe.
The newly dated Irish tomb is small, but was probably the model for hundreds of later stone tombs that litter the Irish and British countryside, including Stonehenge.Reuse content