Glossary - P

Packing stones – The stones around the base of a standing stone which help to keep it upright. Most packing stones are below the surface of the ground but can often be seen on the surface.

Parapet – A low wall that is places high up on a wall with the purpose of protection. Similar to a wall walk on a bawn.

Passage tombNeolithic tomb where a passage leads to one or more chambers used for burials. The best example of these are Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth in Co. Meath. Passage tombs can differ in styles. Common is the cruciform chamber where a passage leads to three chambers that form a cruciform shape. Some have circular chambers and some polygonal and ironically some lack passages. An undifferentiated passage tomb does not have a definite chamber but rather a widening of the passage that defines the chamber. Passage tombs are covered with cairn material which quite often survives.

Piscina - Place where the chalice and other items were washed.

Pit burial - Similar to the cist burial but with no sides. Neolithic/Bronze Age.

Portal Dolmens – Portal tombs are called so because the front often looks like a door. They are some of the oldest tombs in Ireland dating to the middle and late Neolithic period. Most of the 163 portal tombs in Ireland are found in the northern part of the country with some scattered examples along the west and east coasts. They are rare in the midlands, although county Carlow has some fine examples. They usually have two orthostats which define the entrance and are known as portal stones as they form the ‘door’ shape. Other orthostats usually define the side of the chamber so that the only way into the chamber is through the ‘portal’. A single slab rests on these stones and is called the capstone. Some examples have two capstones. The capstone slopes towards the rear and usually rests on a smaller rear stone. A closing slab is often placed between the two portal stones, but not always to full height. The tombs, more often than not, will face to the E and only the E end would have been visible at the rest of the dolmen would have been hidden under a cairn which can be round or long. In general these cairns do not survive and only the barest of traces can be seen. Most of these tombs have, unfortunately, been unexcavated. Archaeologists are divided as to where the dolmen originated with opinion split between Ulster and Cornwall in Britain. The majority of archaeologists believe the portal dolmen to have been a native Irish development that transferred to Britain. One thing this has revealed is the close contact between the populations in Ireland and Britain for the transfer of ideas to travel. This contact can been seen in the Bronze Age in regard to standing stones which seem to be an import to Ireland from the Beaker people in Britain.

Portal dolmen with two capstones at Haroldstown in Co. Carlow





Portal stones – The two stones which form the ‘portal’ or ‘door’ to a portal dolmen. (see portal dolmen)

The two stones that the capstone is resting on are the portal stones. The central stone is the closing stone and the stone to the far left is the remaining stone of the façade. Kernanstown (Browne's Hill) Co. Carlow.



The two portal stones here are set with the their narrow edge facing outwards. Haroldstown, Co. Carlow.

Portico - Small chamber in an ancient tomb separated from the larger chamber by a septal stone.

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