Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.
Circle 3 at Carrowmore. Charcoal from this monument produced a set of contraversial radiocarbon dates stretching back to 5,400 BC, but these have since been ajusted back to about 3,750 BC.

Circle 3

Circle 3, a small and relatively innocent looking monument turned out to be one of the more contraversial Circles in Carrowmore. This monument is a classic example of a tertre or early open air passage-grave, where the central burial chamber is supported by a platform—the tertre—which is enclosed by a ring of boulders or kerbstones. A symbolic passage connects the stone circle to the chber. Circle 3 is one of the most complete monuments remaining at Carrowmore, and is located directly across the street from the visitor centre.

There are thirty boulders arranged in a circle which measures thirteen meters in diameter. Four boulders have disappeared since Petrie's time. There are two smaller inner circles, measuring 9.7 and 7.5 meters in diameter. The monument was dug by Roger Walker, who "found an internment" sometime between 1825 and 1850.

The view south from Circle 3.
The view south from Circle 3.

The circle was measured and described by Petrie, a good friend of Walker who was his host during his visit, in August 1837, working on behalf of the Ordnance Survey. The circle was excavated by Wood-Martin around 1880, and his report, taken from Borlase's Dolmens of Ireland, is given below.

The chamber and passage are oriented to the south, across Circle 57 a few degrees left of the centre of the complex at Listoghil. The passage, the symbolic link between the land of the living and the world of the dead, is just over two meters long. The chamber has a flagged floor and is roofed by a disturbed gneiss slab. The chamber is much too small for a living person to fit inside.


The Swedish archaeological team excavated Circle 3 in 1978. The picture below is a photomontage taken during the dig. These montages were taken by setting up a tall tripod on the site. A camera was slid up one of the legs and the process of the excavation assembled into montages. I find them to be very attractive images, but the technique never took off in Ireland.

Carrowmore 4during excavations.
Photo-montage of Carrowmore 3 during excavations by the Swedish team.

Between Wood-Martin and Burenhult, 32kg of cremated bone came from this small monument. Many fragments of bone and antler pins were found, which suggests that they were a primary part of the burial ritual. Stone beads, a piece of flint and chert were also found.

Human remains from Carrowmore 3.
Human remains from Carrowmore 3 discovered during excavations by the Swedish team.

The carbon dates from this dig published by Burenhult were extremely early: 5,400 and 4,600 cal BC respectively from charcoal in foundation sockets in cist c. 4,100 and 4,000 cal BC. Charcoal from stone sockets c. 3,800 cal BC charcoal from stone socket of passage c.3,000 cal BC: charcoal from secondary inner stone circle. Five dates between 3,300 and 2,500 cal BC.

Circle 4 at Carrowmore
Carrowmore 3 during excavations by the Swedish team.

A more recent dating programme using red deer antler was undertaken by Bergh and Hensey in 2013, which demonstrated that the oldest use of Carrowmore was around 3,800 BC, which fits within the dates from the causewayed enclosure at Magheraboy. The monuments were still in use around 3,000 BC. The dating samples came from two monuments, Circle 3 and Circle 55.

Circle 3 at Carrowmore photographed by W. A Green in 1910.
An amazing image of Circle 3 at Carrowmore photographed by W. A Green in 1910. Photo © NMNI.

Borlase: 1895

No. 3 (I) (dolmen-circle, a few paces East of II).

"This circle is forty feet in diameter, and consists of thirty-four stones, of which four have been displaced. The cromleac remains, but the upper stone has been thrown off its supporters. It is only four feet long, eighteen inches thick, and twelve feet in circumference. Mr. Walker had the chamber of this cromleac searched, and found an interment within it. This circle appears to have had an outer one of very large stones, twelve in number, but only six of them now remain."

- Petrie.

"The cist in this circle is of the figure-of-eight pattern" [that is to say, it is a double one], having a longer axis south-southeast and north-northwest The circle round it measures forty-two feet in diameter. One flag, evidently a covering-stone, remains; but it is partially sunk into the chamber, the side-stones of which average about three feet six inches in depth."

Chamber of Circle 3 at Carrowmore.
Chamber of Circle 3 at Carrowmore.

An excavation was made, and was "carried down to the flagged floor of the cist, traces of which were apparent."

"Abundant calcined and uncalcined remains were brought to light, as well as three stone-beads, and a pendant formed of a natural quartz prism, clear as glass, through the amorphous end of which a hole had been pierced for suspension. This hole was, on both sides, considerably wider externally than in the centre, showing that it had been bored with rude appliances...... It appeared to have been submitted to intense heat, for, on lifting it, part of the extremity of the prism flaked off when touched."

- Wood-Martin.

Besides this amulet of quartz, there was found in this cist "a stone bead formed of steatite, somewhat round in form, of a whitish colour, and highly calcined, and a second bead, also formed of steatite, and highly calcined, but smaller and more elongated in shape, having the diameter of the perforation equal throughout, which is not the case in the rounder bead, where the orifices are larger than the central portion of the hole. Bluish stains in these beads result from the presence of phosphate of iron from the calcined bones. A third bead resembling the first is formed of a stone of a yellowish-brown colour. It is pierced with a hole, in which the marks left by the rotatory motion of the implement, with which it was pierced, are distinctly visible. It did not seem to have been affected by intense heat, as the others had. The material was steatite."


Chamber of Circle 3 at Carrowmore.
Chamber of Circle 3 at Carrowmore.

In shape this bead resembles precisely one found by me in a tumulus at Ballowal in West Cornwall. The form, too, of the quartz pendant is similar to that of a stone pendant, found also by me, together with blue barrel-shaped vitreous beads, in a cairn at Boscregan in the same district. In the latter cairn, together with the beads and pendant, was a little button with two perforations joining in the centre, formed of steatite (see "Archaeologia," vol. xlix. p. 189).

"Steatite is found at Crohey Head in Donegal, and also in Antrim. In addition to the beads, several fragments of bone pins were found in this cist. One of them - the upper portion, which exhibits a head carved into a mushroom shape - is in a petrified state. Another fragment is perhaps the curved point of the same pin. Another piece is curved and polished, and a fourth is the tapering portion of a straight implement. There was also a completely petrified portion of bone like a spear-head, artificially dressed at the point, possibly used as a whetstone."


"This tomb was the richest in relics of the entire series. The uncalcined remains, considered to be human, included a metatarsal bone of the left foot, a portion of a cervical vertebra, a piece of a radius (fore-arm bone), a piece of a dorsal vertebra. There were also uncalcined bones of animals, birds, and fish (gurnard). The calcined remains consisted of about 28 lbs. of small fragments of bones, so saturated with lime salts that many were completely petrified. Numerous pieces were charred, and coloured bluish grey or black from the action of fire. There were many fragments presenting crack-like marks, but none distinctly human. There were also (a) fragments of bones not human, mostly small portions of the skulls of pigs; (b) nine pieces of petrified bone, and one charred lump; (c) a smooth, flattish, circular stone, very dark in colour, similar to, but smaller than one found in No. 4 monument (see infra). This stone weighed 1 oz. 3 drms. 50 grs. It was 5/8 of an inch long, 1 9/16 of an inch broad, and 0.5 inch thick."

A similar disc was found with an urn at Rathbarran.

Circle 3 at Carrowmore
Circle 3 at Carrowmore showing its relationsip to Queen Maeve's cairn on Knocknarea.

With the form of the double cist in this monument we may compare such structures as those of Arnasbrack, Carrownagh, etc. It appears to me not improbable that a line of cists, of which these two are the inner ones, terminated at the south-southeast, in the ring surrounding this cairn.

View of Circle 3 looking east to Keelogues and Killogyboy Mountains.
View of Circle 3 looking east to Keelogues and Killogyboy Mountains.