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