Pronounced Now-th (as in currently-th) as I quickly discovered and proceeded to find hilarious, Knowth is part of the Boyne Valley which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993. This site had a particular attraction to me thanks to ANTHRO 221: European Prehistory from Cave Art to Celts in my last year of my undergraduate degree – similar to the Bog Bodies, in fact the same paper.
You can’t visit this site on your own but tickets and transport is provided from the Brú na Bóinne Visiors Centre. After purchasing our tickets we rain through the rain to catch a little blue bus that would take us the 5 minute drive to the site. It was €5 per adult for entrance to the visitors centre and the tour of Knowth. The visitors centre is also the starting pint from which one can tour Newgrange, the more famous site, but as we got there so late it was one or the other. Also, tours to Knowth are only conducted between April and October, so we were right at the end of the season. The weather made it very clear why this is a seasonal excursion. Newgrange, however, is accessible year round.
If you want to do Dowth, Newgrange and Knowth you should allow the better part of the day. Newgrange is the only mound you can enter, Knowth has the better art, and Dowth is unexcavated. If you want to get in to Newgrange during the Winter Solstice (6 mornings in December), you have to enter as though a competition on the Heritage Ireland website.
The megalithic passage tombs in the Great Mound at Knowth is older than the pyramids of Egypt and just as bad-ass. They are over 5000 years old and absolute feats of stone engineering with the corbelled roof we didn’t get to see :P. Of course we had the typical ‘aliens’ guy there, and for once it wasn’t Tiernan. I agreed with our archaeologist guide when she said that they represent a technological knowledge that we have long lost. And of course we’d lose it. Why do the Eskimos have so many words for snow? Because they deal with it daily. When stones are your only tool you’re going to think of as many ways as possible to use them. Since I hardly ever use stones the only uses I can think of are 1. to weigh things down and 2. to paint.
Back to the Great Mound, you cannot enter the main chamber for safety reasons, but there is a little room cut into the side as a mini museum. It was yet another rainy day in Ireland so although the people at the visitors centre tell you there is no shelter, you won’t be kept outside the whole time.
According to our guide, Knowth represents the pinnacle of mound building. This is because it dates after Newgrange and was probably constructed towards the end of the mound building period. It would have been built from the inside out; passages and chambers would have been laid and the corbelled roof built and then covered with dirt. Knowth is further interesting because it has two passages: one on the west, one on the east and they are aligned to the equinox. As Knowth was a pagan site, the dead found in the internal chambers were cremated men, women and children.
The stones around the outside of the mound represent some of the best megalithic art in the Europe. Some of the stones and art do have names, but the reality is they are so old no one really knows that they mean. Perhaps a fish, perhaps a snake, perhaps a calendar. It now officially means what ever you want it to mean. There are 127 stones around the periphery of the mound, three are missing and four are badly damaged.
Inside, most of the large stonework, such as a large bowl that is over a metre in diameter, remains in situ for practical and ethical reasons. Some of the smaller finds are on permanent display at the National Museum on Kildare Street – the same museum as the bog bodies. They are in the first room to the left when you are making your way around the museum’s first level.
The site is simply littered with smaller mounds that were invisible until uncovered by excavation in 1962.
The site was continually used for a variety of things during different historical periods. It became a hill fort during the Iron Age and the Normans eventually found their own use for its strategic location and fantastic views. A grave and funerary site is probably on one small function of the site. Archaeology, is of course the study of death and rubbish. Archaeologists study the things left behind. Think about the things you throw away. If I were to study you, this is what I would see. The broken hairbrushes, the burned out BBQ, the pile of plastic rubbish yet to decompose, and whatever flash jewellery you’re wearing on the day of your funeral. Does that make you want to change your lifestyle a little bit?
Well I’m sure you’re all terribly bored of the history, but it is a lovely site and I thoroughly recommend visiting it. Perhaps be a little more prepared than I with gloves and a scarf as it can get chilly. Don’t let the rain put you off!
When the sun came out as we were leaving I couldn’t believe how cold we’d just been and was annoyed at the weather gods