Knocknarea equinox sunset.
The Kissing Stone, dolmen 7 at Carrowmore in County Sligo.
Leaba na Fian photographed in 1896 by Robert Welch from Belfast, image © NMNI.

The Kissing Stone - Excavations

As usual, the comments in Borlase's Dolmens of Ireland were extracted from the writings of George Petrie and William Gregory Wood-Martin, dated to August 1837 and 1886. Dolmen No. 7 ( dolmen-circle ): to the northeast of number 6. This was called Leaba-na-bhFian ( Bed of the Fian, or Warriors ); now called the Kissing Stone.

This circle and its cromleac are perfect. Its diameter is 37 feet, and the number of stones 32. The cromleac is about eight feet high, the table-stone resting on six stones. It is nine feet long, and twenty-three feet in circumference. The situation of this circle being on the ridge of a hill, gives it a very striking and picturesque effect.

George Petrie, 1837.

Of the entire series, this is undubitably the finest and best-preserved cromleac and circle. The porch-like entrance is very remarkable.

William Gregory Wood-Martin, 1886.

The Kissing Stone, dolmen 7 at Carrowmore in County Sligo. Photo by Robert Welch from 1896.
The Kissing Stone, photographed by Robert Welch in 1896.

It was possibly a similarly porch-like appearance which caused the Portuguese to call a dolmen an Anta, antae being the name of the porch of the Roman temples, aediculi, and cellae memorie, or shrines of the dead. Such structures were, according to Vitruvius, divided into the cella, which was the inner, and the ante, which was the outer portion.

In regard to the size of this dolmen, Colonel Wood-Martin remarks that it is the only one which can be entered in a semi-upright position. The same writer appends the results of excavations conducted by him in the dolmen itself.

The Kissing Stone, dolmen 7 at Carrowmore in County Sligo.
The Kissing Stone, the most complete and impressive of the early passage-graves at Carrowmore in County Sligo.

It had evidently undergone a thorough clearing out before. The soil, however, was well resifted, and the corners and crevices carefully examined. A couple of stones of the flagging still remained in position at the angles.

Here were found 80 small fragments of bone, greyish-white in colour, possibly calcined. Amongst these was the tooth of a young pig, one valve of a mussel shell, one valve of a cockle shell, two small shells of the genus Helix, several portions of other shells, and a remarkably fine specimen of a "thumb-flint," by which Colonel Wood-Martin means a flint flake such as would have done for a "strike-a-light."

View from Circle 7.
The imposing dolmen of Site 7, the Kissing Stone, looking west to Knocknarea and the huge neolithic passage grave called Queen Maeve's cairn.

It is very similar, indeed, to one found by me under a small dolmen among an immense quantity of burnt human bones, in a tumulus, once probably encircled, near the Rosemoddress circle and Boleit menhirs in West Cornwall. Flint is foreign to the district of Cuil Irra, but is found in Antrim, Down, and Londonderry.

On looking at the ground plan of this dolmen-circle, it may occur to others, as it occurs to me, that there are indications that a passage may, and probably did once lead into the dolmen from the southeast side of the outer ring, a proof that it was not intended that the dolmen should be wholly closed up in its cairn.

The Kissing Stone, dolmen 7 at Carrowmore in County Sligo.
Site 7 at Carrowmore is built on the side of a low hill.

Burenhult's Excavations, 1977 - 1978

The excavation of Grave no 7 took place during 1977-78 and included a phosphate survey of the surrounding field of about two hectars. Grave no 7 is a dolmen with a polygonal chamber, consisting of five standing stones and two additional standing entrance stones in original positions. The roof-block is supported by three of the chamber stones. The chamber is surrounded by an almost complete circle of glacial boulders (gneiss). Its diameter is 12.5 meters and the number of stones 31.

Nine of the stones on the west side have fallen over in recent times and are now found just in front of their original sockets. The grave is placed on a slope in the middle of the field, not on the top of the hill, and the entrance of the chamber is orientated towards the east. The circle-stone just in front of the chamber was found to have been placed slightly inside the correct circle line, with another stone in front of it, the latter possibly in a secondary position. No remains of a former mound could be seen above ground level. As a fixed point the concrete platform at ground level belonging to the National Monument sign was chosen, height above sea level: + 54.75 meters. The coordinate system was placed with the X-axis magnetic north-south and the Y-axis magnetic east-west. The area of grave no 7 is about 150 square meters.

Excavations in Carrowmore 7.
A trench excacated through the platform or tertre during the excavations at Carrowmore 7, the monument known as the Kissing Stone, photographed by Göran Burenhult.


Grave no 7 was erected on a westward slope, facing the Knocknarea Mountain, with its entrance directed towards the east. At first glance, one gets the impression that the monument was constructed on a pre-built platform. The profiles show, however, very clearly that this was not the case. Instead, the slope had been partly levelled and outside the lowest part it was scarped out more deeply. In spite of this, a slight slope still existed and consequently the foundations of the stones in the circle were built up from the levelled surface on the west side, whilst the bigger stones on the east side had to be sunk down into the surface so that the circle should lie horizontally. The foundations were built of small stones of varying size and a compact stone-packing was placed around the big stones and along the line of the circle. An irregular layer of small stones occurred inside the circle. No remains of a former mound or cairn were found. Cremations were frequent inside the circle on the east side of the central chamber, in most cases in a scattered form, thrown out from the chamber at earlier diggings. A secondary burial was found just inside the stone circle on the east side, a cremation with a barbed and tanged arrow-head of Beaker type.

The foundations of the orthostats of the grave chamber had, besides a packing of stones, a hard packing of clay, mixed with crushed chert. It was found that two pre-existing stones at the entrance to the tomb chamber had been removed in recent times: their two sockets were found outside the stones A and F, on the opposite sides of the entrance. Along the north side of the entrance in an eastward direction in line from stone A in the chamber, was found a straight row of four stones, maximum dimension of about forty centimeters each, ending up in a half circle.

In the extension of the same line in an eastward direction a pit was found two meters outside the stone circle. This was seventy centimeters deep and was filled with sea-shells, mainly oysters, blue-mussels, cardium, pecten and litorina. Along the line, inside the half-circle, a small pit was found. In a westward direction, the line passes through the centre of the grave chamber, which also proved to be the exact midpoint of the monument and circle. At this point in the grave chamber a post-hole was found. This post must have been the centre about which the monument had been set out.

Excavations in Carrowmore 7.
Excavations at Carrowmore 7, photographed by Göran Burenhult.

Charcoal from this post-hole has been used for the radiocarbon dating of Grave no 7. Summing up. following a straight line from this midpoint post-hole (not in magnetic east, but 4°8' south of east) the line passes through stone A in the chamber, through the foundation of the removed stone outside the entrance, through the line of four smaller stones into the half-circle and its pit. through the mid-point of stone I in the circle reaching the big pit outside the monument containing the sea- shells and possible remains of a larger post. The line has not been followed further to the east. The remains of four more post-holes occurred inside the circle and around the south side of the chamber.

On the north side of the monument, inside the main circle, was found a half-circle of 10 stones, 40-60 centimeters in diameter, running along the inside edge of the stone packing. During the season of 1977, a preliminary phosphate-survey was made to prepare a field laboratory for coming seasons. On the two-hectar field where Grave no 7 is located, 97 tests were taken just above sterile ground, or at between 30 and 50 centimeters depth. The tests have been analysed by docent Birgit Arrhenius at the Archaeological Laboratory. University of Stockholm. The survey showed that the method would be useful and applicable in the Carrowmore area, but the values of this particular field did not indicate any settlements. Only four of the test-holes gave values high enough to be worth investigation: test-holes 89, 90, 91 and 92.

The full report is available to download here.

Excavations in Carrowmore 7.
Excavations at Carrowmore 7, photographed by Göran Burenhult.

Finds from Carrowmore 7


Large quantities of chert were found both inside and outside the circle. Most of it is crushed, apparently to form part of the clay-packing of the stone foundations, a very common pattern in many megalithic areas including southern Scandinavia, where mainly flint was used. The character of the chert makes it very difficult to determine the amount of what could be waste material from toolmaking, and only one certain piece with retouch has been found. 1. Retouched point of chert.


Only one flint-tool was found. A secondary burial, probably of Early Bronze Age date contained a barbed and tanged arrow-head, and altogether 12 pieces of flint waste material were found. 1. Barbed and tanged arrow-head of flint, found in cremation. Length: 27.5 millimeters, Width: 20.0 millimeters, Thickness: 3.8 millimeters. Hollow-retouch below point. One of the barbs is broken, length of intact barb: 8.3 millimeters.

Arrowhead and pounding stone discovered in Carrowmore 7 during excavations.
Arrowhead and pounding stone discovered in Carrowmore 7 during excavations.
Antler pins

11 fragments of antler pins were found, length: 13-39 millimeters, thickness: 5-9.2 millimeters. One of the fragments is a head-piece, diameter of head: 11.5 millimeters. 1. 4 fragments of antler-pin, one head-piece, found in intact cremation, deposition 3 in grave-chamber. 2. 6 fragments of antler-pins, found in cremation. 3. 1 fragment of antler-pin.


One stone-ball was found above plan 1, made of limestone.
Diameter of ball 14.5 millimeters.

Pounding stones

Three pounding stones were found in Grave no 7, one has a cup-mark on the broad side, and one has been used as a grinding-stone. 1. Pounding-stone with cup-mark, length: 114.5 millimeters. thickness: 53 millimeters. Diameter of cup-mark: 22 millimeters, depth: 1.6 millimeters. 2. Pounding-stone, length: 134 millimeters, thickness: 47.6 millimeters. Traces of grinding. 3. Pounding-stone with hollowed shape after grinding. length: 134.5 millimeters. thickness: 59.3 millimeters.


Burned human bones were found in great quantities both inside the circle and inside the grave-chamber itself. One burial was found outside the circle, on the south-east side, a cremation placed between two stone- slabs. In this connection, a part of two furrows and ridges were unearthed in the surrounding area. They have not been excavated. 3 of the cremations were placed in immediate connection with stone 32 outside the chamber entrance, two in the stone-packing of the foundations of the stone-circle, two were found in pits and the secondary burial with the flint arrow-head was placed above the stone-packing in the circle. All over the east side of the chamber, inside the circle, were scattered bones at a high level, obviously thrown-out material from diggings in the chamber.

Excavations in Carrowmore 7.
Excavations at Carrowmore 7, photographed by Göran Burenhult.

These spread bones all came in plan 1 together with pieces of glass bottles, modern china and clay-pipes. The scattered bones were collected areawise. The grave-chamber had been dug into in recent times. The intrusion could be clearly defined, filled with burned human bones, sea-shells and modern material of the above mentioned type. Intact cremation deposits were found in the four corners between the orthostats in the chamber. These four burials, partly put into the dry-walling with stone-slabs between the orthostats in such a way that they must have been deposited at the actual erection of the monument, contained pieces of burned sea-shells and charcoal, and, in one instance, pieces of an antler pin. Along the inside of the chamber orthostats additional cremations were found, partly intact and partly destroyed in their inner parts by secondary digging. The bottom layer in the grave chamber was intact with finds of burned clay. charcoal and the above mentioned post-hole, but no cremations were placed at this level. Not one fragment of pottery was found. The geological analysis shows, that the very fine clay in the grave-chamber should present good preservation conditions for pottery. It seems likely, that pottery was not used as grave-goods in Grave no 7 at Carrowmore.

Excavations in Carrowmore 7.
Carrowmore 7, the Kissing Stone returfed after the excavation in 1978, photographed by Göran Burenhult.

Pieces of seashells, mainly cardium and pecten, but also bluemussels and oysters, many of them unopened, were found inside the grave-chamber as mentioned above, some of them in undisturbed positions together with the cremations. These burned seashells can be defined as grave-goods, or offerings in connection with the burials. Depositions of seashells were also found just outside the circle on the east side of the monument and situated in front of the entrance. Large quantities were unearthed below modern plow-level on an area of eight square meters, and inside the stone-packing of the circle.

The large ritual-pit outside the circle and the entrance of the chamber were filled mainly with oysters and blue-mussels, most of them unopened. It should be mentioned, that during the phosphate-survey of the field where Grave no 7 is situated, only one hole of 97 test-holes covering the whole area (about two hectars), gave seashells, a big deposition in test-hole no 88. Consequently, taking all these facts into consideration, modern fertilizing with seaweed on the field can be excluded as the reason for the rich finds of seashells outside the entrance of the monument. The deposits must be regarded as offerings of unopened shell-fish, possibly indicating an essential part of the economy of the megalith-builders.

Excavations in Carrowmore 7.
Excavations at Carrowmore 7 revealed a ritual pit filled with seashells, photographed by Göran Burenhult.

In test-hole no 88, about 60 meters west of grave no 7, a large deposition of seashells was found. The bottom of the deposition was placed 90 centimeters below turf level. A flat stone-packing with pieces of charcoal was covered with a thin layer of oyster shells, mixed with blue-mussels. Above this bottom layer a layer of cardium to the height of forty centimeters was placed. Most of the shells were unopened. The deposition has not yet been excavated.

Later recent finds

Both inside and outside the central chamber, within the circle, large quantities of fragments of clay-pipes were found above plan I. A small modern porcelaine figurine was found in section 24 (height 42 millimeters).

Excavations in Carrowmore 7.
Carrowmore 7, the most complete and impressive monument remaining at Carrowmore, photographed by Göran Burenhult.