Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Is Tara's archaeology being damaged?

Frank McDonald of The Irish Times keeps us all informed on Tara:

The National Roads Authority (NRA) has denied that directions by Minister for the Environment Dick Roche to protect archaeology along the M3 motorway route are being "openly flouted" by works now under way.
Celtic scholar Dr Muireann Ní Bhrolcháin, of the Save Tara campaign, has written to Mr Roche and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern complaining that damage had been done to Rath Lugh, a designated national monument.
"The tree felling and use of heavy digging machinery at Lismullin and at the base of Rath Lugh - one of Tara's outlying defensive fortifications - is not being carried out in accordance with the Minister's directions."
Dr Ní Bhrolcháin said standards of best archaeological practice were not being observed and that the directions issued by Mr Roche in May 2005 regarding the treatment of archaeological sites "are being openly flouted".
But Mary Deevy, project archaeologist with the NRA, insisted that a site in a Save Tara photograph was part of an esker ridge - "two fields away from Rath Lugh" - which was used for private small-scale gravel quarrying.
She had walked from Lismullin to Rath Lugh earlier this month with Heather King, a senior archaeologist from the department, "who confirmed that no damage had been done to archaeological sites" in the area.
Asked if the Minister's directions were being flouted, Ms Deevy said: "Absolutely not". She added that the contractors involved in the work were fully informed on archaeological sites "and know very well what sites to avoid".
Mr Roche had specified that the removal of forestry and topsoil at Lismullin and Ardsallagh was to be "carried out under archaeological supervision" and all construction topsoil stripping was to be archaeologically monitored.
"There is no archaeological supervision of forestry clearance at Lismullin," Dr Ní Bhrolcháin said. "Neither is there any archaeological monitoring of large-scale earthmoving from the base of the Rath Lugh escarpment.
"Such actions completely undermine Rath Lugh and the assurances given by the Minister in relation to this, one of our nation's most sensitive archaeological and historical landscapes," her statement said.
She explained that Rath Lugh "stands as a sentry over the Gabhra Valley guarding the northern and north-western approaches to the Hill [ of Tara] and overlooks other nearby recorded archaeological monuments".
Dr Ní Bhrolcháin said stratified archaeological sediments were visible in photographs of damage done to what she claimed was Rath Lugh. "If there were archaeological supervision such works would have been brought to a halt."
She also queried why such work had started under cover of darkness when an archaeologist would be unlikely to see freshly disturbed archaeological strata.
Although the Minister had said that his directions were "both comprehensive and onerous" and would "protect heritage" sites along the M3, Dr Ní Bhrolcháin said that his expressed wishes "are being 'comprehensively' ignored".

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