On a rainy day in 1838, Lady Georgiana Chatterton climbed a hill on Ireland’s Dingle peninsula and sketched “a very curious piece of antiquity,” which she included in her travelog “Rambles in the South of Ireland During the Year 1838.”
For decades, the sketch of large stones, which resembles the Flintstone’s house in the old cartoon, was the last known recorded evidence of the Altoir na Greine or sun altar.
It had stood for about 4,000 years but disappeared by 1852 when an antiquarian noted it had been dismantled, according to Irish broadcaster Raidio Teilifis Eireann. Its exact location was a mystery.
Over 170 years later, during COVID lockdowns, folklorist Billy Mag Fhloinn went searching for the temple’s remains on a hill called Cruach Mharthain near the village of An Buailtin. The large stones were found by Mag Fhloinn.
“I was interested in this particular tomb, firstly because it is less than half a mile from my house but also the mystery surrounding it,” Mag Fhloinn told Business Insider via email.
Photographs helped find the site
Mag Fhloinn lives at the bottom of the Cruach Mharthain hill, according to Live Science. An instructor at Dingle campus of Connecticut-based Sacred Heart University, he’s mapping the sites of wedge tombs.
“These types of structures are burial places,” Mag Fhloinn said, generally dating to around 2,500 to 2,000 BCE. The cremated remains from a variety of people are mixed in this chamber. “
The Bronze Age Stone Tombs are found in many parts of Ireland. Many more have also been discovered. Researchers have found pieces of pottery, remnants of fires, and other evidence that people may have performed rituals at similar tombs.
“They’re places of ritual, so it may be helpful to consider them more like shrines for ancestors than graves”, Mag Fhloinn explained.
During his searches of the hill, Mag Fhloinn took photographs to create a 3D model. Using a technique known as photogrammetry, he digitally joined different images together. He then noticed orthostats or upright stones.
Rotating the 3D model on his screen, Mag Fhloinn saw how well it corresponded with the 1838 drawing. “That was my real eureka moment,” he said.
A few left-behind stones
Mag Fhloinn and a fellow scholar, Sean Mac an tSithigh, printed out Chatterton’s picture, went up to the site, and found two matching stones. He said that two stones matched was very strong evidence.
It was an unexpected find. Richard Hitchcock, the antiquarian who, in 1852, couldn’t find the tomb, wrote that the stones had “been broken and carried away for building purposes, as if there were no others in the neighbourhood,” RTE reported.
Caimin O’Brien, an archaeologist with the National Monuments Service, verified Mag Fhloinn’s findings.
“For the first time in over 180 years archaeologists know where the tomb is situated and it will enhance our understanding of wedge-tomb distribution,” O’Brien told RTE.
Now the tomb is found, archaeologists are curious to see if it lives up to the name. Some wedge tombs are built with the sun in mind.
Mag Fhloinn stated that most wedge tombs are facing west and in particular to the southwest. This tomb, however, appears to point east. “Local folklore talks about the rising sun casting light upon the stones,” he said.
That might make the tomb interesting to archaeoastonomers, he said, who could “see if there is any truth to the folk accounts.”