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Neolithic Passage Tombs
In May 2012, I was privileged to be given the opportunity to survey two of the great passage tombs in the Boyne Valley Co.meath Ireland. The Project was set up by Steve Davis at the University of Dublin and David Strange-Walker from Trent and Peak Archaeology. The goal of this project was to 3D record the two most inaccessible tombs creating a virtual access to these ancient spaces.
The onsite survey team consisted of David Strange-Walker and myself. David’s extensive work on the Nottingham Caves Project has seen him Laser scan and 3D record in some very logistically challenging situations; the recording of the Neolithic tombs would offer a whole new set of challenges for both the team and the equipment. 

The Boyne Valley is rich in Neolithic archaeology with three great passage tombs, Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. We had selected two of the three great tombs for 3D survey, these were Knowth and Dowth. Knowth is famous for its rich and abundant rock art, and has been the subject of excavation and archaeological investigation for decades. The site has been extensively excavated and recorded. By contrast Dowth has had little excavation with much of the site remaining undiscovered, its decorated curb stones buried under the slump of its mound and its two curiously small tombs are suggestive that further chambers may yet be discovered within the great mound.

Access to the tombs was gained through narrow passages often only achievable by crawling through the gaps under the collapsed stones that formed the passage walls. The weight of the mound over thousands of years had forced the passage stones inward making some parts of the passage extremely low and narrow. All of our equipment and lighting had to be carefully ‘dragged’ into the tombs. It took several trips to get all the equipment we needed into the tombs chambers.
High resolution mesh created with Agisoft Photoscan, showing the carvings on the tomb walls at Knowth.
The Leica HDS7000 was used to laser scan detailed areas of Neolithic rock art. We also had a Leica HDS6200; using the two scanners allowed us to complete the survey of both sites in 10 days.
In the main chamber at Knowth with its fantastic corbelled roof. (Photograph by Ken Williams of Shadows and Stone)
Cross-sections through the 3D survey data for the passages and chamber at Dowth
The collapsed passage required crawling through to get access to the main chamber. (photograph by Ken Williams of Shadows and Stone)
Scanning ‘The Stone of Seven Suns’ at Dowth with the Leica HDS7000
This project was logistically challenging and adventurous in spirit, to understand what it is like to be inside one of these great tombs I have included a link to a video of my first exploration visit to Dowth. This can be viewed here.
Inside Dowth
Video in the tombDowth.html