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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
"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."
excavation was made, and was "carried down to the flagged floor of
the cist, traces of which were apparent."
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."
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."
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
A similar disc was found with an urn at Rathbarran.
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.