Posted by: marymarthatours | December 28, 2011

Knowth, a Neolithic Site at Bru na Boinne, Ireland

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A resource about the designated World Heritage Sites, states that Bru na Boinne with its Neolithic tombs “is one of the most important prehistoric sites in Europe and also one of the best preserved.” It has been in continuous use “from the 4th millennia to the early 2nd millennia BC and then from the Early Iron Age to the High Middle Ages.” Now that is a long time, and it covers some very significant events and periods in the story of Ireland.

Bru na Boinne, meaning “Bend or Palace on the river Boyne”, is north of the city of Dublin in Co. Meath. Within the area are the three Neolithic tomb sites of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth; the Hill of Tara is very near by. On one day of our recent Ireland tour, we went to the Bru na Boinne Visitor Centre where we had lunch and then viewed the informational movie about the area. We were unable to visit Newgrange because our group was too large to fit into the passage there. We got a “feel” of the Newgrange interior in the replica at the visitor center.

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Bru na Boinne Visitor Center

We did tour Knowth which is also a passage tomb. Newgrange is larger, stands alone, and has one passageway leading to a main chamber. Knowth is surrounded by small mounds, and has two separate passages entering the mound from opposite sides. Within both Knowth and Newgrange are chambers containing carved stone basins. Both were constructed over 5000 years ago and have an abundance of stone carvings.

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Guide at Knowth, September 2011   and    Knowth interior passage

Our tour guide at Knowth described the “structures” and history of the various elements at the site and took us into the mound to a room (“built” during archaeological excavation in the 20th century) to see the inside construction. While inside, we could peek down one of the passageways. Several of us trekked to the top of the mound and found that from there we could view Newgrange in the distance.

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Newgrange as seen from Knowth, Sept. 2011

Knowth is considered to be especially important “for its rich megalithic art, which includes over 300 decorated stones.” Much of the carving is not visible, because it is on the back and/or bottom sides of the stones. I wonder if it was meant to be appreciated by non humans.

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A repeated design was that of the triskele, a triple spiral. This design is found among other ancient cultures and was used in art by the Iron Age Celts. There is a story that St. Patrick used the three leaf clover to explain the theology of the trinity. I believe that the Irish would have had no difficulty understanding the concept of three-in-one as they had been surrounded by the triskele for thousands of years.

 Martha at Knowth. Look carefully for the triskele triple-spiral symbol on the stone next to her.

There are four styles of Neolithic tombs in Ireland. In a prior blog posting I wrote about Poulnabrone, a portal tomb. The four types, in order of oldest to most recent, are: portal, court tombs or court cairns, wedge tombs and passage tombs. The passage tombs are the most recently constructed, dating from 3300-2500 BC. Passage tombs were often grouped together in necropolises, like Knowth is, and sometimes with other tomb types.

It is interesting to consider how through the ages humans have spiritually regarded death and found ways to connect with those who have died. We are not really different today. Often the burials sites were in the most sacred places and the most special burial structures were reserved for the most important people. Which came first? Did the locations become sacred because of the ancestors who were buried there or were they sacred before any burial occurred? Or, both?

(by Martha)

All photos from 2011 “Gardens of Ireland” Tour

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