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Rites of Passage at Tara

This exhibition explores the oldest visible monument on the Hill of Tara.

Temporary Exhibition Temporary Exhibition

The Excavation of the Mound of the Hostages

The Mound of the Hostages, or Duma na nGiall, is the oldest visible monument on the Hill of Tara. The mound covers a burial monument called a passage tomb built in the period just before 3000 BC, which was used as a place to bury human remains for more than 1,500 years. The mound lies near the northern edge of a large enclosure called Ráith na Ríg or Fort of the Kings. The line of this enclosure was laid out so that the ancient mound would lie within it thus respecting its importance. The enclosure was built around 100 BC.

The excavation of the Mound of the Hostages showed it to have a very complex history of construction and use. This exhibition displays some of the many exceptional finds uncovered during the excavation and describes some aspects of its cultural setting in the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods. In the medieval period the mound became known as Duma na nGiall - the Mound of the Hostages because it was the place where the symbolic exchange of hostages took place.

The Tara excavation project began in the early summer of 1952, directed by Seán P. Ó Ríordáin, Professor of Celtic Archaeology at University College, Dublin. In 1956, after two seasons excavation at the mound, Prof Ó Ríordáin became ill. He died in 1957. His successor, Professor Ruaidhrí de Valera completed the excavation of the Mound of the Hostages in 1959. The final report on the excavation was published in 2005 and the finds from the site were transferred to the National Museum of Ireland in 2006. The exhibition tells the story of the Mound of the Hostages as revealed by the excavation. Because the tomb and the mound were used for burial over such a long period the unravelling of the complex sequences of burial and other ritual activities was difficult. The post-excavation work included the classification of hundreds of objects of bone, stone, pottery and metal; detailed examination of field drawings and site notebooks; specialist studies of the human remains and scientific dating of organic samples by radio-carbon dating. Dr Muiris O’Sullivan completed the task of publishing the excavation with the co-operation of many archaeologists and other specialists, resulting in the publication of Dumha na nGiall - the Mound of the Hostages.