No fewer than 75 monuments are present at the Hill of Tara – 25 are above ground, 50 are buried under the surface. The five main roads of Ireland during the ancient times converged at Tara, making the site of geographical importance. Here is one of those 75 monuments found at the Hill of Tara, Duma na nGiall.
Duma na nGiall is the most obvious mound on the Hill of Tara.
Duma na nGiall: “Mound of the Hostages”
As a passage tomb (3350-2900 BC), cemetery mound (2350-1500 BC), royal inauguration site (until 600 AD)
Around 3350 BC, Duma na nGiall was constructed on Tara’s rather low hill as a passage tomb. A passage tomb consists of a man-made cairn (stone pile mound) covered with earth, through which is a passage leading to the burial chamber. These burials were more for ceremonial than practical purposes, as the Neolithic peoples in Ireland practiced cremation. So would Duma na nGiall be used for the next three millennia. The cremated remains and uncremated bones of over 300 men, women and children have been found interred in the passage tomb. Other objects included clay pots, necklace beads and bone pins. This makes the Duma na nGiall a wealthy burial tomb with a high variety of artefacts. It is worth noting that Duma na nGiall predates the pyramids of Egypt.
If the mound looks small, keep in mind that the ground has raised more than 10 feet since it was constructed.
During the 3rd millennia BC, about 1000 years after its initial construction, Duma na nGiall’s purpose changed and it became a cemetery mound for individual burials. Buried beneath the circumference of the mound archaeologists found richly decorated urns buried upside down. There is one uncremated burial, of a young man within the tomb’s clay mantle. This man was a member of Ireland’s warrior elite during the Early Bronze age, evidenced by his bronze dagger and exotic jet, amber and faience necklace that were buried with him.
The (now shallow) entrance to the passage burial tomb.
The reference in Duma na nGiall’s name, the Mound of Hostages, comes from the ancient Irish tradition of holding “hostages” from rival kingdoms. Pre-Christian Irish Kings would take the children of rival Kings “hostage” as a form of insurance that the rival King would not invade them. In reality, these princes and princesses were raised by their “adopted” families as one of their own children, but this practice ensured some stability from raiding and marauding. A famous reference to this practice is from Niall Noígíallach, or Niall of the Nine Hostages. His saga describes that Niall had five hostages from the five kingdoms of ancient Ireland (Ulster, Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Meath), plus one each from Scotland, the Saxons, the Britons and the Franks. Niall was a High King of Ireland and lived sometime during the 5th century AD.
These links have some good photographs and more detail about the Duma na nGiall from archaeological excavations done in the 1950’s. Here is the report’s introduction and here is some of what was found.