Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery

The largest and one of the most important megalithic sites in Europe. Carrowmore (Irish: Ceathrú Mór, meaning Great Quarter) is the site of a prehistoric ritual landscape on the Knocknarea or Cúil Irra Peninsula in County Sligo in Ireland. It is one of the four major passage tomb cemeteries in Ireland.

Around 30 megalithic tombs can be seen in Carrowmore today, and the traces of more (ruined) tombs have been detected. The tombs (in their original state) were almost universally 'dolmen circles'; small dolmens with boulder circles of 12 to 15 meters around them. The tombs are distributed in a roughly oval shape surrounding the largest monument, a cairn called Listoghil. The dolmen 'entrances' - crude double rows of standing stones - usually face the area of the central tomb.

Because of the assemblage of material found within the monuments, the clustering, and the layout of the structures, Carrowmore - like Newgrange and Lough Crew - is classified as being part of the Irish Passage Tomb Tradition. There has long been debate about how the different tomb types - 'passage tombs', 'court tombs', 'portal dolmens,' and 'wedge tombs' - all of which occur in County Sligo - should be interpreted. Are they indicative of different 'cultures,' or peoples? Of different functions for a single community? Perhaps research into DNA or other techniques of the future will finally resolve these questions.

Almost all the burials at Carrowmore were cremations with inhumations being only found at Listoghil. It is apparent that the dead underwent a complex sequence of treatments, including excarnation and reburial. Grave goods include antler pins with mushroom-shaped heads and stone or clay balls, a fairly typical assemblage of the Irish element of the passage tomb tradition. Some of the tombs and pits nearby contained shells from shellfish, echoing the finds of shell middens along the coast of Cuil Irra. The Carrowmore tombs were sometimes re-used and re-shaped by the people of Bronze Age and Iron Age times. They remained focal points on the landscape for long after they were built. The role of megaliths as monuments and foci of ceremony and celebration, as well as markers on the landscape is emphasised by archaeologists such as Richard Bradley. Earlier commentaters - who called the monuments 'tombs' - saw them simply as a repository for the dead, or as markers erected over fallen warriors.