When the Evidence is Silent: The Iron Age in Donaghmore

For reasons that remain unclear evidence of the Iron Age population is missing from the archaeological record. Much of what is known about Irish society at that time comes from mythology, from tales such as the Tain.

Evidence for the Iron Age is hard to find but several sites on the M1 showed activity during this period. At Donaghmore, a small ring-ditch dating 120 BC to AD 60 appears to be part of a cremating monument. A structure of wood had been burnt and the ring-ditch was full of ash and charcoal. No burial was found.

The Donaghmore ring-ditch might be a structure known as a 'mausoleum'. Across Europe the concept of a circular burial monument is taken for granted. By the Iron Age (and possibly earlier) burial monuments were being made to look like large, circular sponge-cakes. The greatest example is Hadrian's Mausoleum in Rome (now the Castel Sant' Angelo) built 135 - 139 AD, but several earlier examples are known.

Donaghmore might have been a large cylinder of wood containing a body that was then ceremonially burnt.

ASI: How can the Irish disappear for hundreds of years?
During the Iron Age (500BC - AD 400) everybody disappears. There are important 'Royal Sites' such as Emain Macha, Co. Armagh and the Hill of Tara, Co Meath and some wonderful examples of highly skilled metalwork.

But the Irish population is (archaeologically) missing. They produced enough food to make ends meet but people had no time for physical luxuries. We know Iron Age people usually cremated their dead but after that they did not often bury the remains. Perhaps the dead were scattered on sacred sites such as older monuments, rivers and lakes. Perhaps, like the Romans, the ancestor's ashes were kept in the house to watch over the living.