Dig at Halloween ritual site to get under way

The secrets of Halloween may be discovered, as the first-ever archaeological excavations begin today on the Co Meath site hailed as the birthplace of the international festival.

 Tlachtga, the second century fort near Athboy in Co. Meath. Picture: Tom Conachy

A team of archaeologists and volunteers are set to undertake a three-week dig at Tlachtga near Athboy — most commonly thought to have been the ancient home of celebrations to mark the feast of Samhain, our modern Halloween.

Initial surveys already carried out using airborne laser scanning and geophysical techniques have revealed the area to have been a key ritual site, according to lead archaeologist Dr Stephen Davis from the UCD School of Archaeology.

“These surveys reveal that the site has several different phases of monumental enclosures and we believe them to be associated with festival and rituals dating back as far as 1000 BC,” he said. “It’s a very important site which was likely to have been a ritual assembly place. It’s one of only three enclosures of its status in Ireland, the others being at Tara and Rathcroghan in Co Roscommon.”

Tlachtga lies just 12 miles from Tara.

“Given the size, this was likely a key ritual site for many generations.

“It certainly was a huge focus of activity in its time,” said Dr Davis.

“But we will only be able to tell for sure how and when people used the site after we complete the excavations.”

“Tlachtga is also one of the sites known as the four corners of the old province of Meath, the others being Uisneach, Tara and Teltown, and is associated with a number of myths and legends in early Irish literature,” he added.

Funding for the dig has been provided by the Office of Public Works, Meath County Council, the Heritage Council and the Royal Irish Academy.

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