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The Céide Fields and North West Mayo Boglands

Date of Submission: 08/04/2010
Criteria: (iv)(v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Ireland to the OECD and UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
County Mayo on West Coast of Ireland
Ref.: 5524
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party

Description

Coordinates

- Céide Fields: N54 16 48 W9 22 15

- Glenamoy: N54 14 12 W9 43 11

 

The Céide Fields comprises a Neolithic landscape consisting of megalithic burial monuments, dwelling houses and enclosures within an integrated system of stone walls defining fields, which are spread over 12 km² of north Mayo. Many of the features are preserved intact beneath blanket peat that is over 4m deep in places. The significance of the site lies in the fact that it is the most extensive Stone Age monument in the world and the oldest enclosed landscape in Europe. The blanket bog landscape is of immense importance for its natural habitat value as well as for its illustration of environmental and climate history.

The Céide Fields were constructed around 5,700 years ago by Neolithic farmers. This post-glacial landscape was dominated by woodlands, grasslands and heaths in a climate that was relatively warm and dry. Archaeological evidence from survey and excavations has been supplemented and confirmed by a programme of radiocarbon dating pine stumps preserved in the peat throughout North Mayo (Caulfield et al. 1988) and also by extensive palaeoecological research by Molloy and O'Connell (1995, O'Connell and Molloy 2001). This research has revealed that the farmers cleared woodlands dominated by pine and birch to make pasture for grazing livestock.

The Céide Fields show a countryside that was systematically divided into regular coaxial field systems bounded by dry stone walls. On the Céide hill a series of parallel walls over 1.5km long divide the land into long strips, varying from 90m to 150m wide. To the west of the Céide Fields Visitor Centre these walls seem initially to follow the contour of the Behy valley and then continue over the spur of the hill onto the eastern Glenulra side merging with a second similar parallel system following the alignment of the Glenulra valley. This continues further eastwards onto the next hillside. The width of each strip remains remarkably consistent, despite "meanders" in the walls. Each strip of land was subdivided by "cross walls" into rectangular fields, up to several hectares in size (Caulfield 1988, Caulfield et al 1998). Further to the north East of Glenulra in Doonfeeny and Ballyknock and to the east the layout of the fields is not as regular.

Within the area of the actual fields there are five court tombs. Behy is a fine example of a transeptal chambered tomb with drystone court that was excavated in the 1960s. Two tombs are located at Glenulra and one apiece at Sralagagh and Aghoo. Immediately outside the fields area, located in modern farmland are a further six tombs. There are two unclassified but possible court tombs in Glenulra, two portal tombs in Ballyknock and two court tombs in Ballyglass (both excavated and one is a fine example of a central court tomb which had evidence of a substantial rectangular dwelling house beneath it). It is likely these were also originally surrounded by fields but the lack of blanket peat means that they have not survived.

There are several dwelling sites associated with the fields also. When excavated, an oval shaped stonewalled enclosure in Glenulra (adjacent to the Visitor Centre) was revealed to have surrounded a round house of wood, (Caulfield 1978, 1983). At least 11 other similar enclosures throughout the field systems are presumed also to have been dwelling areas, indicating a pattern of dispersed settlement. Nearby a small egg-shaped structure attached to a field wall may have been used as an animal pen (Byrne and Dunne 1990), and other excavations have revealed various features and artefacts (Byrne 1989, 1991, 1992). There is also a high probability that many other individual structures remain undiscovered beneath the deeper peat.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The significance of the Céide Fields lies in the fact that along with their associated megalithic monuments and dwelling structures they provide a unique farmed landscape from Neolithic times. Not only are they "an outstanding example" but they are the outstanding example of human settlement, land-use and interaction with environment in Neolithic times. The first adoption of farming occurred at different times throughout the world. Nowhere else is there such extensive physical remains of a Neolithic farmed landscape surviving from this significant period in prehistory.

The Céide Fields are certainly of 'universal' value in the definition first used by UNESCO in 1976 'represent or symbolize a set of ideas or values which are universally recognized as important, or as having influenced the evolution of mankind as a whole at one time or another' (1976 CC-76-WS-25E).

In 1998 it was stated "The requirement of outstanding universal value characterizing cultural and natural heritage should be interpreted as an (WHC-98/CON F.201/INF.9).

outstanding response to issues of universal nature common to or addressed by all human cultures."

In 2006 Barker stated that the "transition from foraging to farming was the most profound revolution in human history", (Barker, G. 2006. The Agricultural Revolution in Prehistory: Why did Foragers become Farmers? Oxford, Oxford University Press, 414).

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Authenticity:

The Céide Fields are totally authentic in that the stone field walls have quite simply not been disturbed in over 5,000 years. The vast majority are still completely hidden untouched beneath up to 4 metres of blanket peat. The growth of this blanket bog is not only part of the unique environmental history of the site but has served as a very real physical protection of the remains as well as providing unequivocal proof of the antiquity of the site.

Integrity:

Where archaeological excavations have been undertaken in the vicinity of the Visitor Centre, the physical structure of the remains have not been disturbed. A deliberate decision was taken not to "reconstruct" in any way, even though most of the walls had already collapsed prior to the growth of the bog. The abandonment of the fields and the collapse of the walls are seen as an integral part of the history of the site.

Comparison with other similar properties

There are three other inscribed World Heritage Sites in Western Europe which are all or partly Neolithic in date;

Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyne;

Heart of Neolithic Orkney; and Stonehenge,

Avebury and Associated Sites.

 

Principal differences with Céide Fields:

The remains for the sites above represent an entirely different cultural indicator and none of them have visible remains of the economic activity of farming that underpinned the society or indeed the vernacular architecture of the time.