An enormous henge monument believed to be 5,000 years old has emerged from its hiding place underneath an unsuspecting farmer's field in northeast Ireland.
A dry spell that has been plaguing the whole of Britain for more than a month now comes with a few advantages, at least for the world of archaeologists.
It was the drought that allowed author and photographer, Anthony Murphy, to find the henge in the first place.
First Henge Monument Found In Brú na Bóinne
Murphy, who owns the website Mythical Ireland, found the henge with his photographer friend Ken Williams near the Newgrange Neolithic Passage Grave in County Meath, just 30 miles north of Dublin.
The monument, believed to date back to 3,150 to 2,500 BC, was found near the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Brú na Bóinne near the Boyne River, which is known for being Europe's largest complex of prehistoric megalithic sites.
Aside from Newgrange, the valley is also home to Knowth and Dowth, two of the most remarkable Neolithic passage tombs in the area.
Discovery By Dry Spell
A fortunate mix of factors helped Murphy uncover the ancient monument. The Irish dry spell was particularly essential to the discovery.
The henge was never seen before because it is buried under the surface of the soil where crops are growing. In a dry spell, any small amounts of water left in the soil stick to the rotten giant wooden posts under the ground.
This gives the crops above the henge a bit more advantage, leaving them slightly healthier and greener than the other crops.
From the ground, farmers will not be able to notice the minimal difference, but drones flying overhead with cameras can. The difference in color of the crops allowed the outline of the henge to stand out from a background of parched crops.
Discovery By Drone
On the advice of Stephen Davis of the School of Archaeology at the University College Dublin, Murphy set out to investigate a previously known archaeological site called Site P.
Upon reading reports that the heatwave was uncovering remarkable archaeological discoveries in the UK, Murphy thought he could take advantage of the dry spell in Ireland too.
While he and Williams were flying their drones, the pair found the outline of a broken circle standing out from the fields on Murphy's camera feed.
"We knew fairly quickly that what we were seeing was something very special. And huge," Murphy says on his website. "We are both familiar with the recorded monuments of the Bend of the Boyne, and we know that nothing of this size had been recorded in that field previously."
The images show two concentric circles made of what could most likely be giant wooden posts planted in postholes. To the west of the monument is another enclosure and to the far northeast are even more broken circles.
Murphy says the discovery is astonishing because henge monuments are incredibly rare and are even rarer in the Brú na Bóinne, which has been extensively studied by archaeologists in the past.
Ireland's National Monuments Service says it will continue a further technical investigation of the site. However, it is unsure how future investigations can be made in the future because the henge was found on private property.
Come harvest time, the imprint will be lost to observers again until another drought takes place, which could be anywhere from a few years to a few decades. The last dry spell in Ireland took place in 1976 when there were no camera-carrying drones to help find the henge.
Unique Henge Features
The discovery is made even more unusual because of the strange features of the monument not found in other henge-type structures of the late Neolithic period.
Davis, whose urgings caused Murphy to discover the site, says this is the first henge-type monument he has seen with causeways.
"The most extraordinary and unexpected-as well as inexplicable-part of the find is the segmented nature of the ditch," Davis says. "When I first saw the image, I thought 'causewayed enclosure' but it is far too regular and has other features which are very typically late Neolithic."
It is still unknown what these massive henge-type monuments built by ancient humans were made for. The prevailing theory is these monuments were made likely as a sacred place for pilgrims to conduct rituals or ceremonies.