Poulnabrone Portal Tomb

Poulnabrone portal tomb or Poulnabrone Dolmen as it is often referred to as, is one of the oldest memorials in the human history of The Burren.

Large stone tombs known as megalithic tombs were built throughout Western Europe during the neolithic or new Stone Age when the practice of farming was first becoming established.

Over 100 megalithic tombs are known to survive in the Burren and the earliest of these are the Court tombs and the portal tombs built in the 4th millennia BC – over 6000 years ago.

Poulnabrone portal tomb is possibly the best-preserved portal tomb in The Burren.

At the time this tomb was constructed the landscape would have looked quite different from that of today. Open pine forests and some Elm or Hazel were widespread and there were limited areas of open grassland. Much of today’s barren terrain is the result of excessive soil loss in later prehistoric times.

Many of the ancient field walls to be seen in the Burren may have been constructed by these tomb builders to enclose their farmland and to mark territorial boundaries.

These early farmers would have most likely lived in rectangular wooden houses and their subsistence economy relied largely on the cultivation of crops such as wheat or barley and on domesticated animals, particularly cattle. Hunting and fishing would have played an important part of their economy.

In contrast with their in-permanent homes, these people built substantial stone tombs to house their dead. The investment of labor represented by these tombs and their continued usage over a long period of time suggests that they served a powerful symbolic role in their communities. Today they are an enduring reminder of sacred places.

Poulnabrone portal tomb and it’s environment are composed of Carboniferous limestone, a sedimentary rock type formed over 320 million years ago on the floor of a warm shallow sea. It is composed of the compacted remains of the animal and plant life of these ancient waters, visible today as fossils in the rock.

Overtime massive glaciers scoured and sculpted these limestone beds to create the distinctive terraced hillsides while dropping rounded boulders, called erratics in their wake. Ancient earth movements fractured and folded the limestone and solutions and rainwater expanded the hairline fractures and formed deep cracks called grikes separated by blocks called clints. These are the classic features of a karst landscape. The elegant surface patterns on these water-worn limestone pavements were shaped insitu over many millennia.

Poulnabrone is a classic example of a portal tomb with two tall portal stones flanking the entrance to a rectangular stone-lined chamber which is covered by a single large capstone. A low oval-shaped mound or cairn of loose stone that helped stabilize the chamber surrounds the tomb. This cairn would probably have been no higher than it is today suggesting that the dramatic tomb structure itself was designed to be the main focus.

Archaelogical excavations were carried out at Poulnabrone between 1986 and 1988 when the fractured eastern portal stone needed to be replaced. The original portal stone can be seen lying on the limestone pavement just to the north of the tomb.

The excavations revealed that at least 33 individuals were buried in the chamber. Infants, children, and adults, both male and female.  It’s likely that the bones, which were highly fragmented, were initially allowed to decompose elsewhere before being transferred to this tomb sometime around 5000 years ago. Personal possession buried with the dead included a polished stone ax, decorated bone pendant, stone beads, quartz crystals, flint weapons and implements and fragments of pottery. Many of these artifacts are on display in Clare County Museum in Ennis.

Radiocarbon dating has shown that those buried in the chamber died in 6200 to 4900 years ago, placing them firmly in the neolithic or new stone age. Over a thousand years later during the bronze age, a newborn baby was buried just outside the entrance to the chamber. This tomb was not just a form of burial place but must have also been a focus for related rituals and ceremonies. The transfer of bones from their original resting place suggests strong links with the ancestors.

The tomb continued to dominate the landscape of later generations as evidenced by the bronze age burial. Today it provides us with the ability to imagine and contemplate the past.

Polnabrone Portal Tomb is a must-see site on any Private Cliffs of Moher Day Tour and Connemara Chauffeurs would love to take you to visit this stunning and historic site. Connemara Chauffeurs are a firm believer in leaving no trace so we would ask our guests to ensure that they do not leave any trace that they were ever at Polnabrone Portal Tomb – except the spectacular photographs you will inevitably take! If you wish to include a visit to the Polnabrone Portal Tomb on your Private Tour to The Cliffs of Moher simply specify it at the time of booking or speak to your driver/guide. It is invariably suggested due to its spectacular location in any event! We hope you enjoy your visit.

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