Conservationists protesting at the site of the proposed M3 motorway in Co Meath yesterday claimed ancient gravestones have been dumped in piles of topsoil and bones were visible in excavated spoil from the route of the motorway.
The claims were rejected by the National Roads Authority (NRA).
Six conservationists, some of whom are part of a vigil camp near Dunshaughlin yesterday postponed their blockade of a construction compound, concentrating instead on a known ancient burial ground at Collierstown. A conservationist who did not want to be identified said she had been "trying for a week to get the NRA to do something about the gravestones".
She said human and animal bones have been identified at the Collierstown cemetery as part of the archaeological excavations. But she insisted that stones which had been used to line the graves were now visible piled in heaps beside hard core, in spoil and lying about exposed to the elements.
She also maintained "bones are visible in the topsoil, in spoil and around the graves. She said she had removed a number of bones to give to the National Museum.
However, the NRA chief archaeologist Mary Deevey said the claims represented typical "misinformation".
She said the excavation had identified the burial ground as far back as 2004 and excavations began in earnest in 2005. Some 50 burials had been
identified in circular enclosures. The entire site had been hand excavated and all human bones were removed. She said there were no headstones and the gravestones referred to by the conservationist would have been stones used to line the graves. While these were recorded through photography and drawing, and any decorated stones saved, "ordinary" stones were simply set aside if they were not wanted by the National Museum.
Regarding bones she said they were most likely animal bones. She maintained any field in Ireland would yield animal bones "But this site was excavated by hand. The human bones were removed. I think what the conservationist was seeing was simply animal bones."
Ms Deevey said the site was thought to be early Christian, dating from the sixth or seventh centuries and in use for about 150 years. "The burials were laid on their backs and aligned east- west, which suggests a Christian burial", she said.
© 2007 The Irish Times
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