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Mound of the Hostages, Tara (Images)

The Mound of the Hostages takes its name from the medieval Irish designation of the monument Duma na nGiall, a name associating the monument with the symbolic exchange of hostages which must have taken place at Tara in the medieval period. It is, however, a passage tomb built around 5000 BC. The passage is 4m long and was divided by sill-stones into three compartments, the floor of each formed by a large, flat slab. It is orientated roughly east - west with the entrance, which is flanked by two portal stones, facing east. One of the side-stones is decorated with concentric circles and zigzag patterns characteristic of passage tomb art. Although disturbed during the insertion of further burials during the Early Bronze Age, the assemblage of primary, Late Neolithic cremated burials and accompanying grave goods is one of the finest in the country. This was a collective burial chamber probably receiving the cremated remains of the dead over many years. A layer of undisturbed primary burial deposits, 30cms deep, for instance, was found in the central compartment and was accompanied by the full range of artefacts normally associated with these tombs - including the distinctive passage tomb pottery (Carrowkeel Ware), bone pins, pendants and stone balls. Some forty burials dating to the Early/Middle Bronze Age were found in the clay mantle covering the cairn of the passage tomb. These single burials signify a shift away from the collective burials of the earlier period and reflect the emergence of a more hierarchical social structure based on individual wealth. Although a number of inhumation burials of this period were placed in the passage, only one was found in the mantle of clay: all of the remaining burials were cremated. Many of these were contained under inverted cinerary urns which were in some cases accompanied by smaller Food Vessels and miniature pots. Some of the burials were contained in stone-built cists and in some cases two or more burials were placed in the same pit. The sole inhumation burial in the mound was that of a boy, about 14—15 years of age. Around the area of the neck were the remains of a necklace of jet, amber, bronze and faience beads and near the feet lay a small bronze knife and the very corroded remains of what may have been a bronze awl. That this youth was of privileged rank in society can be deduced from the exceptional grave goods, in particular the faience beads which may originate from the eastern Mediterranean and were a rare and exotic item in Bronze Age Ireland. SMR No.: ME031-033007-