The director of the National Museum, Dr Pat Wallace, has called for a complete archaeological excavation of the important prehistoric circular "henge" at Lismullen along the route of the controversial M3 motorway.
In a letter to Minister for the Environment Dick Roche, he said there should now be a pause for reflection on the preparatory works being carried out for the motorway to allow a committee of experts to recommend the best way of excavating Lismullen.
Although Dr Wallace declined to comment on his letter when contacted yesterday, it is known that he expressed serious concern about the methodology used by National Roads Authority (NRA) archaeologists in dealing with other sites on the route.
In particular, he took exception to the stripping of topsoil by mechanical diggers, with the effect that only archaeological features in the subsoil were left and the stratographic record of each site was being compromised as a result.
He congratulated the Minister on having designated Lismullen as a national monument and queried whether similar designations might not have been applied to at least some of the 30-plus sites on this section of the route.
Dr Wallace's letter also noted that he had warned the Minister in April 2005 that the discovery of sites such as Lismullen was entirely possible, given that the motorway is planned to run through what he and others regard as the Hill of Tara's archaeological landscape.
Conor Newman, lecturer in archaeology at NUI Galway and one of the leading experts on Tara, said the only way to preserve Lismullen was to cover it in topsoil and walk away.
"The NRA has done more than enough damage to this landscape already," he added.
"This site proves without a shadow of doubt that the Tara complex extends into the surrounding landscape exactly as we said. The suggestion made on Meath County Council's website that somehow it was a temple that served a lesser political unit is asinine."
Mr Newman said such attempts to distance Lismullen and other sites from Tara and its surrounding landscape were "absolutely disingenuous" while the speed with which excavations had been carried out on the motorway route was "unseemly".
Dr Muireann Ní Bhrolcháin, of the Campaign to Save Tara, has called for a full excavation of the area between Lismullen and Rath Lugh, a prehistoric promontory fort, part of which was "shaved" by preparatory works on the motorway.
"The fact that the huge henge of Lismullen remained undiscovered and unidentified by geophysical surveys and test-trenching means that the NRA's archaeological surveys and test-trenching results are highly suspect," she said yesterday.
In response to a request for a copy of Dr Wallace's letter, a spokesman for the Department of the Environment said the advice it contained was "part of a deliberative process" and it would not be published until after Mr Roche issued directions on Lismullen.
© 2007 The Irish Times