for National Geographic News
The discovery of a major prehistoric site where experts believe an open-air royal temple once stood has stalled construction of a controversial four-lane highway in Ireland.
A large circular enclosure estimated to be at least 2,000 years old was revealed at Lismullin in County Meath, prior to work on a 37-mile-long (60-kilometer-long) road northwest of Dublin (see map of Ireland).
The find is located just 1.25 miles (2 kilometers) from the Hill of Tara, once the seat of power of Ireland's Celtic kings, and likely represents a ritual site, according to government archaeologists attached to the road project.
The new road is intended to ease congestion along a busy commuter route to Dublin but is fiercely opposed by campaigners who say it threatens a treasure trove of ancient remains.
Work was halted last month after archaeologists with the National Roads Authority (NRA) reported a large timber monument 80 meters (262 feet) in diameter, with a 16-meter-round (52-foot-round) structure inside thought to have been a temple.
Artifacts unearthed at the site include a stone axe head, a pottery fragment, and an ornamental pin. An ancient buried dog was also excavated nearby.
Archaeologists say the monument probably formed part of an important ceremonial complex centred on the Hill of Tara, where remains date back to the Stone Age.
Archaeologist Joe Fenwick of the National University of Ireland, Galway, described the Hill of Tara as Ireland's equivalent of Stonehenge or Egypt's Pyramids.
"It's commonly recognized that this valley [where the new site was found] is part of Tara, which is the pre-eminent archaeological site of our nation," he said.
Hill of Tara
The monument's valley setting and the small number of artifacts recovered so far suggest the enclosure was a ritual site rather than a human settlement, the NRA team said.
"Its low-lying position means you have no view once you're inside the monument, so you wouldn't have seen anyone approaching," said Mary Deevy, NRA chief archaeologist.
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