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Dowth is located in Ireland
Shown within Ireland
LocationCounty Meath, Ireland
Coordinates53°42′13″N 6°27′01″W / 53.70365°N 6.4502°W / 53.70365; -6.4502
Typepassage grave
Part ofBrú na Bóinne
Criteriai, iii, iv
Designated1993 (17th session)
Part ofBrú na Bóinne - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyne
Reference no.659
Official nameDowth Mound & Dowth Passage Tomb
Reference no.410 & 652

Dowth (Irish: Dubhadh) is a Neolithic passage tomb near the River Boyne in County Meath, Ireland. It is one of the three main tombs of the Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site, along with Newgrange and Knowth. Its features align it with the other passage tombs, which date from around 3200 BC. Unlike its bigger neighbours, Dowth has mostly been left as a ruin, although its smaller inner chambers are largely intact. The Royal Irish Academy carried out a botched excavation in 1847, leaving a large crater in the mound that has never been repaired.[1][2]


The cairn or tumulus is about 85 metres (280 ft) in diameter and 15 metres (50 ft) high,[3] and surrounded by large kerbstones, some of which are decorated. Quartz was found fallen outside the kerbing, suggesting that the entrance to this tomb was surrounded by glittering white stone, as at Newgrange. Three stone-lined passages lead into the mound from the west. These comprise two passage tombs (known as Dowth North and Dowth South) and a souterrain.

The longest of the passages (Dowth North) is 18.2 metres in length and is crossed by 3 sill-stones and ends in a cruciform chamber[4] with a lintelled (not corbelled as in Newgrange or Knowth[citation needed]) roof. Dowth South is 3.5 metres long and ends in a roughly circular chamber with a modern concrete roof (the original roof having collapsed).[4] In Dowth North, several of the orthostats (upright stones) of the passage and chamber are decorated with spirals, chevrons, lozenges and rayed circles. On the floor stands a single stone basin, 1.4m x 1m in size. The right-hand arm of the cross leads into another long rectangular chamber with an L-shaped extension entered over a low sill, sometimes referred to as 'the annex'.[5] This may be the earliest part of the tomb, later brought within the design of the cruciform tomb. This annex is floored with a 2.4 metre-long flagstone containing an oval bullaun (artificial depression). Until recently the cruciform tomb was reached by climbing down a ladder in an iron cage, and crawling about over loose stones. Now, access is restricted, and all the features are guarded by metal grills.

A kerbstone with cup-marks, a spiral, and a flower-like design marks the entrance to Dowth South. While the current roof is modern, it is possible the original one was corbelled, as at Newgrange.[5] This tomb has a few decorated stones and a large right-hand recess.

The third entrance visible on the west side of Dowth is an early Christian souterrain.[3] It leads into the passage of Dowth North and was constructed around the 10th or 11th century CE.[6] The Annals of Ulster and the Annals of the Four Masters refer to Norsemen plundering the "cave‟ of Dowth around 862 CE; the "cave" in this description may refer to the souterrain.[7]

The mound originally had about 115 kerbstones surrounding it. Kerbstone 51, sometimes called the Stone of the Seven Suns, features a number of radial circular carvings,[5] similar to those at Loughcrew.

Archaeological investigation[edit]

Dowth was excavated in 1847 by the Royal Irish Academy. In this botched investigation, the middle of the mound was almost completely dug out and dynamited. It was not filled in again, and some of the stone was then quarried.[8] This large crater has still not been repaired.[1][2]

Unlike Newgrange and Knowth, Dowth has not been independently dated, but its features align it with the other passage tombs which date from between approximately 3200 and 2900 BC.[6] However, Harbison (1970) dates the tomb at 2500 – 2000 BC.[3]

Archaeological and geophysical field surveys of the entire site, including later monuments, were carried out episodically from 2012-2015.[9] In July 2018, another passage tomb in the grounds of nearby Dowth Hall was excavated, revealing significant examples of Neolithic rock art similar to those at Dowth and the other Brú na Bóinne sites.[10]

Astronomical alignment[edit]

Dowth shares a special solar celebration with neighbouring Newgrange during the winter solstice. Martin Brennan, author of The Stars and the Stones: Ancient Art and Astronomy in Ireland - Thames and Hudson 1983,[11] discovered the remarkable alignment during the course of his ten-year study in the Boyne Valley. From November to February the rays of the evening sun reach into the passage and then the chamber of Dowth South. During the winter solstice the light of the low sun moves along the left side of the passage, then into the circular chamber, where three stones are lit up by the sun.[12]

The convex central stone reflects the sunlight in to a dark recess, lighting up the decorated stones there. The rays then recede slowly along the right side of the passage and after about two hours the sun withdraws from Dowth South.[12]


The medieval Dindsenchas (lore of places) has a story about Dowth (Dubhadh). It says that king Bresal Bó-Díbad compelled the men of Ireland to build a tower to heaven within a day. His sister cast a spell, making the sun stand still so that one day lasted indefinitely. However, Bresal then commits incest with his sister, which breaks the spell. The sun sets and the builders leave, hence the name Dubhadh ('darkening').[13] This tale has been linked with solstice alignments at Brú na Bóinne.[14] It has also been linked with recent DNA analysis, which found that a man buried at nearby Newgrange had parents who were most likely siblings.[15] This could mean that knowledge of the events survived for thousands of years before being recorded as a myth in the Middle Ages.[14]



  1. ^ a b O'Kelly, M. J.; O'Kelly, Claire; O'Sullivan, V. R.; Frith, R. H. (1983), "The Tumulus of Dowth, County Meath", Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy: Archaeology, Culture, History, Literature, 83C: 135–190, JSTOR 25506098
  2. ^ a b Harbison, Peter (2007), "In Retrospect: The Royal Irish Academy's only archaeological excavation: Dowth in the Boyne Valley", Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy: Archaeology, Culture, History, Literature, 107C: 205–213, JSTOR 40657903
  3. ^ a b c Harbison, Peter (1970). Guide to the National Monuments of Ireland. Gill & Macmillan.
  4. ^ a b "Dowth Megalithic Passage Tomb - Boyne Valley, Ireland". www.knowth.com. Retrieved 25 June 2018.
  5. ^ a b c "Dowth | Built heritage | Brú na Bóinne | World Heritage | World Heritage Ireland". www.worldheritageireland.ie. Retrieved 25 June 2018.
  6. ^ a b Fenwick, Joe (2015). "A reassembly of the monumental fragments in Dowth townland and their significance as an integral part of the prehistoric numinous precince of Brú na Bóinne, Co. Meath". Journal of Irish Archaeology. XXIV: 19–49. hdl:10379/7311.
  7. ^ Fenwick, Joseph (2018). "A reappraisal of the archaeological remains in the vicinity of the great passage tomb and manorial village of Dowth, Brú na Bóinne, Co. Meath". Journal of Irish Archaeology. XXVI: 12. hdl:10379/7294.
  8. ^ O'Kelly M.; O'Kelly C. (1983). "The tumulus of Dowth, County Meath". Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. 83C: 135–90.
  9. ^ Fenwick, Joseph (2018). "A reappraisal of the archaeological remains in the vicinity of the great passage tomb and manorial village of Dowth, Brú na Bóinne, Co. Meath". Journal of Irish Archaeology. XXVI: 2. hdl:10379/7294.
  10. ^ Edwards, Elaine (16 July 2018). "5,500-year-old passage tomb at Dowth is 'find of a lifetime'". The Irish Times. Retrieved 17 July 2018.
  11. ^ The Stars and the Stones was later re-published as The Stones of Time: Calendars, Sundials and Stone Chambers of Ancient Ireland, 1994. ISBN 978-0-8928-1509-8; ISBN 0-89281-509-4
  12. ^ a b "Dowth Winter Solstice Sunsets - Boyne Valley Ireland". www.knowth.com. Retrieved 25 June 2018.
  13. ^ Koch, John. Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO, 2006. p.619
  14. ^ a b Hensey, Robert. Re-discovering the winter solstice alignment at Newgrange, in The Oxford Handbook of Light in Archaeology. Oxford University Press, 2017. pp.11-13
  15. ^ "Stone Age ruling elite in Ireland may have had incestuous marriages". New Scientist, 17 June 2020.

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