Crop circles in Ireland? Yes, technically, but not the kind of crop circles you’d associate with aliens. It sure does look like those same types of circles depending on how you look at them. In this case, however, once again, Google Maps has allowed researchers to see into our human (not alien) past.
After a long drought period in Ireland, Anthony Murphy, founder of the Mythical Ireland group, looked at new images in parts of the countryside using the Google Maps program.
What he uncovered turned out to be at least 50 archaeological sites that were previously unknown to researchers. A gallery of those images is below. According to Murphy, the sites are extremely difficult to find since there are no traces of ancient monuments on the ground. It’s likely the people who lived there all these years never realized that the land they farmed hid the ancient history it does.
Some of the sites, which include ringforts and medieval enclosures from the Iron Age and barrows that date back to the Bronze Age. All of the new sites date to between a few hundred years old to 4,000 years old and were found in Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, and Meath. Some are speculating that some of the sites date back as far as 6,000 years ago. The new sites generally range in size from 60 to 330 feet (20 meters to 100 meters) in diameter, while some sites found previously are three times that size.
The team got very lucky with the timing of the Maps imagery. Google regularly updates its aerial photos, and had they looked just a month earlier, never would have spotted the rings. They looked all throughout the summer of 2018, after a lengthy drought and heatwave killed off most of the tillage fields, making the sites more visible.
Had they looked when the grass was healthy, they never would have spotted them – and you can’t see them on the ground either. But what does healthy, greener grass have to do with finding archaeological sites?
“The ditch features retain whatever trace moisture is in the ground a little more effectively than the surrounding soil, and so the crops growing out of the archaeological features tend to be a tiny bit greener and healthier. From the air, what you get is a contrast between the healthier and less healthy crops, revealing the shape and size of the structures beneath the surface. It’s fascinating.”
Essentially, the weight of the stones used to build the ancient structures made them sink into the earth, creating ditches. Because the ditches tend to retain more water than the surrounding soil, the grass that grows in the ditches tends to stay healthier longer and appears brighter than the grass beside it. When the group looked, they saw the greener grass, saw the patterns, and later confirmed that the sites were of archaeological importance.
According to Murphy, the last time it might have been possible to discover sites in this way was 1976 — the last time Ireland had such a severe drought.
After finding the sites, Murphy reported them to the National Monuments Service for further study. This was the second time in 2018 Murphy made a discovery like this. He is also responsible for finding a previously unrecorded Neolithic henge in Newgrange.
Anthony Murphy was “gobsmacked” on Tuesday night of this week when he discovered a never-seen-before giant henge monument in the Boyne Valley not far from Newgrange.https://t.co/3OFtBbz7jj
— Farmers Journal (@farmersjournal) July 11, 2018
Rock art, including art from prehistoric times, have also been found, and many of the archaeological sites found in Ireland have some religious significance.
Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Joseph Madigan, T.D., said of the henge that:
“This new information is a graphic illustration of the extent and density of the ritual and ceremonial sites associated with the Newgrange Passage Tomb. This stunning new archaeological data provides fresh, spectacular and unique insights into the origins and development of the Neolithic landscape and society.”
See some of the available photos of all of the new sites below, and view all previously found sites, all of which are available to the public at the Archaeological Survey Database website.