1,000-year-old underground passage discovered in the Caha Mountains of Ireland

1,000-year-old underground passage discovered in the Caha Mountains of Ireland

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Workers operating an excavator during a road-widening project in the Caha mountain range in County Cork made a surprising discovery, when they accidentally made an opening in the earth that exposed an ancient underground passageway.  Archaeologists said that the tunnel had been dug through solid rock around 1,000 years ago.

According to The Southern Star , the discovery was made while workers were carrying out excavations for a road project to widen a 1.6km tourist route in Bonane, located in the Caha mountain range, a range of low sandstone mountains situated on the Beara peninsula in south-west County Cork, in Ireland. Relatively little archaeological research has been undertaken in the Caha Mountains, however, it is known that the lower hills still retain traces of Neolithic settlements.

The ancient underground passage was discovered in the Caha Mountains, County Cork, Ireland.

The ancient underground passage was discovered in the Caha Mountains, County Cork, Ireland. Credit: FineArtAmerica

Archaeologists from the National Roads Authority (NRA) were called in to investigate when the discovery was made. 

“When I arrived on site, the construction has ceased and the opening that was exposed had been blocked by slabs for safety,” James Eoghan, senior archaeologist with the NRA, told The Southern Star. “I worked my way into the entrance and saw two chambers and it was obvious to me that this was an archaeological find.”

The ancient passage discovered recently at Bonane.

The ancient passage discovered recently at Bonane. Credit: The Southern Star

Eoghan explained that the underground tunnel is a type of ‘souterrain’, a name given by archaeologists to a type of underground structure associated mainly with the European Atlantic Iron Age. 

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A souterrain (coming from the French sous-terrain, meaning “underground passageway”) is a type of subterranean structure that is believed to have been brought northwards from Gaul during the late Iron Age, and continued to be constructed until around 1,000 AD. The newly-discovered souterrain is believed to be around 1,000 years old.

“Souterrains are underground structures and are hard to find in a traditional sense because of them being underground, but can tend to be found as a result of construction in some cases,” said Eoghan. “These underground passages are tunnelled normally by digging a trench and this particular one is unusual and unique to this area as it’s tunnelled almost into rock.”

In their early stages, souterrains were always associated with a settlement. The galleries were dug out and then lined with stone slabs or wood before being reburied. In cases where they were cut into rock this was not always necessary.  In later eras, the souterrains appear to have been used as places of storage for perishable and valuable items, and as places of refuge during times of strife.

Artists drawing of a souterrain below an enclosure c. 800AD.

Artists drawing of a souterrain below an enclosure c. 800AD. ( Federation for Ulster Local Studies Limited )

In Ireland, the highest concentrations of souterrains can be found in north Louth, north Antrim, south Galway, and west Cork and Kerry, with lesser numbers distributed across numerous other countries across the country. They are often found inside or in close proximity to a ringfort. It has not been announced whether further archaeological research will be undertaken to explore the area around the souterrain discovered in the Caha Mountains.

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A panoramic view of a souterrain (right of center) contemporary with a ringfort dating to around 700 AD, built within a much earlier barrow cemetery, in County Armagh, Northern Ireland

A panoramic view of a souterrain (right of center) contemporary with a ringfort dating to around 700 AD, built within a much earlier barrow cemetery, in County Armagh, Northern Ireland ( Wikipedia)

The newly-discovered souterrain in the Caha Mountains was not damaged by the road works, and plans are now underway to record, protect, and preserve it for the future. 

By April Holloway

Comments

It's amazing the ingenuity of our ancestors. No wonder we have survived. Looks like it could serve as a fallout shelter when our leaders decide test our survival skills today.

rbflooringinstall's picture

Has anybody gone all the way down there yet? I feel like there is more to the discovery than what they are telling.

 

Peace and Love,

Ricky.

Your skepticism is a good thing Ricky, I hope you never lose it. The photo shows something entirely different than the artistic renditions following it. The photo clearly shows some serious hard rock tunneling, of roof, walls, and floor, which are totally inconsistent with the 'explanation' given in the article. I seriously doubt Iron Age people had the time or means to do this sort of work. Where are the tools, the archaeological evidence for the rock tunneling? Do local museums hold any evidence for this contention? And why is the assumption that this tunnel was carved from the surface down? Seems to me it could as easily have been carved the other way. But that contention would require some serious explaining on someone's part. Clearly someone is not giving us the real story here, they are showing us an apple and telling us it is an orange.

Tsurugi's picture

Yeah. Also, judging from the pictures, it does not look like a place for a farming settlement. If souterrains are generally dug in dirt beneath a settlement and lined with wood and stone, then this tunnel cut in rock in the middle of nowhere up in the mountains is not a souterrain.

Ireland was inaccessible under an ice sheet over Ireland at the time of the Neanderthals, and trolls are not part of the traditional mythology (they're Scandinavian). Gaelic mythology would offer the Tuatha Dé Danann (aka the good people), who moved to the otherworld when the Gaels arrived, and various legends tell of caves and faerie rings as being the entrances to their worlds. Or the Iron age Celts protecting their families from invaders, one of the two.

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