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The Passage Tomb Landscape of County Sligo

Date de soumission : 26/01/2023
Critères: (iii)(iv)
Catégorie : Culturel
Soumis par :
Permanent Delegation of Ireland to UNESCO
État, province ou région :
County Sligo
Ref.: 6635

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Les noms des biens figurent dans la langue dans laquelle les États parties les ont soumis.


Northern area, Carrowmore 51: UTM E 531369.2226 / N6011311.2566
Southern area, Carrowkeel, Cairn F: UTM E174936.4226 N311386.5307

County Sligo possesses approximately one hundred intensely interconnected megalithic passage tomb sites and undisturbed cairns in often dramatic topographical environments.

The site can be visualised as a northern coastal group of passage tombs centred on the Carrowmore complex and the Cúil Iorra peninsula, and a southern inland group in the Bricklieve Mountains, anchored by the Carrowkeel complex, both areas containing dense concentrations of monuments. These two foci, 23 km apart, are geographically connected by the Unshin River, but also by an intimate and dynamic interaction between landscape, ritual and ancestral connections.

The proposed inscribed Property encompasses 26 units of varying size as a serial property, totalling an area of 16 km2. Today this Neolithic landscape contains remote areas, and hills of varied geology, the whole infused by a rich corpus of medieval Gaelic myth – much of which directly relates to these monuments and places. Many of the monuments are unopened and in an excellent state of preservation. 

The passage tomb tradition of County Sligo is characterised by an intense dialogue between monuments and landscape, but also by construction, distribution patterns and longevity of use.

Justification de la Valeur Universelle Exceptionnelle

Neolithic monumentality on the western Atlantic seaboard is an expression of an extraordinary cultural efflorescence following the onset of agriculture. The passage tomb landscape – on which this proposed Property is based – represents the most westerly and dramatic expressions of a remarkable flourishing of the construction of ritual monuments across Europe between five and six millennia ago. The selection of significant topographical locations, often with a high degree of visibility, created a strong intervisibility between the monuments. The various monuments within this extensive landscape thereby all contribute as part of an intricate web of connections. This interconnectivity of monuments and varied local topographies is a potent expression of a long disappeared cultural milieu, which fostered an intense and enduring dialogue between architecture and landscape that remains unmatched in world terms.

The passage tombs of Co. Sligo have a distinctive place within the Irish passage tomb tradition as it is the only area where the full range of monument constructions is clearly represented; from the earliest small boulder circle monuments to the vast cairn covered monuments.

This cultural landscape has an extraordinary density of undisturbed and unexcavated megalithic sites of the passage tomb tradition, providing an unrivalled exemplar of a Neolithic ritual landscape with an exceptional level of completeness, thus illuminating a significant stage in human history.

The monuments were consciously and actively merged with the physical topography in which they are located, and crucially, they remain so; the lives and consciousness of the modern residents of County Sligo daily permeated by living beneath and among these time-honoured monuments and landscapes.

Criterion (iii):
As one of the best preserved and densest prehistoric monumental landscapes in Europe, the passage tombs of Sligo bear exceptional testimony to the worldview and ‘sacred geography’ of Neolithic people, notably their ability to use architecture to transform and connect a large geographical area in accordance with their religious beliefs and sentiments.

Criterion (iv): The passage tomb landscape of Sligo demonstrates, in an outstanding way, the creation and development of a Neolithic sacred landscape over a millennium. 

Déclarations d’authenticité et/ou d’intégrité

The Passage Tomb Landscape of County Sligo is a serial site and a cultural landscape. It is comprised of approximately 100 monuments (the attributes) distributed across 26 individual property units covering a total area of 16 km2. The monuments and their landscapes represent a holistic representation of the Neolithic passage tomb tradition through preserving a diverse range of monuments and morphological features in terms of complexity, size and landscape integration.

The state of preservation of the site is unparalleled for a prehistoric cultural landscape of this scale and complexity in northwest Europe. A recent analysis of the site’s monuments demonstrates exceptionally high levels of authenticity. The wide range of monuments within the site represent a cross-section of the distinctive morphological features that characterise the Irish passage tomb tradition with regards to chamber constructions, surrounding cairns and boulder circles and megalithic art. Many of these features are highly probable to be early or foundational examples nationally.

The landscape setting of the monuments and the line of sight between the sites is largely intact, thus maintaining the intrinsic relation between landscape and monument, as well as demonstrating the cohesiveness of this site.

The site is of adequate size to ensure the complete representation of the features and processes which convey its significance. The monuments and their landscape setting are predominately in good condition and are afforded statutory protection both at national and local level.

Comparaison avec d’autres biens similaires

Five properties bear comparison with The Passage Tomb Landscape of County Sligo, only the first four of which are currently on UNESCO’s World Heritage List:

  1. The Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites, South Korea
  2. The Antequera Dolmens site, Spain
  3. Heart of Neolithic Orkney, UK
  4. Brú na Bóinne – Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyne
  5. The megalithic region of Locmariaquer/Gavrinis, Carnac

Site 1. can be set aside as it represents a considerably later tradition unconnected to the broad social impetus underpinning the Property. The Passage Tomb Landscape of County Sligo stands apart from 2. Antequera, 3. Orkney and 5. the Carnac site in that:

  • Within this singular tradition of monumental construction an extremely wide range of design complexity occurs.
  • It represents a unified and coherent ritual tradition expressed by strictly adhered to monument building criteria.
  • It exhibits explicit and active integration of the terrain through the placement of monuments in conspicuous locations.
  • The number and density of passage tombs, together with a long chronology of primary use.

Though of the same cultural tradition, the site in question is clearly distinguished from 4. Brú na Bóinne by:

  • Its wider range of passage tomb form and design, from small simple dolmens to complex chambers in massive cairns.
  • Its longer period of construction and use, at least 3750-2500 BC, with a significant emphasis on the earliest phase of the Irish passage tomb tradition.
  • The larger number of passage tomb monuments (c. 100) including a higher percentage of un- excavated and unreconstructed sites.
  • The monument’s explicit and active integration with the terrain through the choice of conspicuous locations in dramatic landscapes, and a high degree of intervisibility between monuments.

In contrast to Brú na Bóinne, The Passage Tomb Landscape of County Sligo is nominated in the category of ‘Cultural Landscapes’, to encompass the multi-layered values of the landscape that these monuments represent.

Other significant and related locations in Ireland include the Loughcrew complex, Co. Meath, with remains of 15 unambiguous passage tombs over a more limited area, and the prehistoric settlement site Céide Fields, Co. Mayo, which has long been considered as a site of Neolithic and Bronze Age farming.

This cultural landscape is distinguished from the comparative sites above in terms of outstanding universal value, authenticity and integrity and its scale and cohesiveness as a representation of global Neolithic heritage.