Within the golf course of Ballymascanlon House Hotel you can find two iconic reminders of County Louth’s ancient past. The Proleek Dolmen is one of Ireland’s most famous examples of a portal tomb. This is one of over 170 portal tombs (also known as dolmens) recorded in Ireland. Portal tombs generally date to the earlier part of the Neolithic period (c.3800–3500 BC). Geographically they are more common in the northern half of the island, with some clusters in the west and the south-east. This example at Proleek consists of two large upright stones (known as portal stones), each measuring over 2 metres (6.5 ft) tall, and a back stone supporting a massive capstone that is estimated to weigh over 40 tonnes.
Just a short distance away is a fine example of a wedge tomb. Wedge tombs are the most numerous of Ireland’s megalithic tombs, with around 505 known examples around the country. This is a later monument than the portal tomb, and was probably constructed some time around 2500 BC, around the end of the Neolithic period and the beginning of the Bronze Age, in a transitional period known to archaeologists as the Chalcolithic. This is the time when the first copper and metal tools began to be made in Ireland. This era is also known as the Beaker Period, due to the appearance of a particular type of pottery drinking vessel. You can hear a great discussion on the Beaker People with Dr. Neil Carlin in this episode of our Amplify Archaeology Podcast. The proximity of the two monuments is interesting – the portal tomb had already stood here for millennia before the wedge tomb was constructed. Those who built the later tomb are quite likely to have been from a completely different cultural background (perhaps even a genetically different), though they must have attached meaning and significance to the older monument to leave it untouched and to build their own in its shadow.
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