ME00957 - KNOWTH - Burial ground

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Located in a slight E-W dip or fold between a rise to the N and the ridge of Knowth c. 200m to the S, and it is also at the headwaters of a small WSW-ENE stream. This monument is designated Site M (O’Kelly 1978, 61) and comprises a circular grass-covered area (diam. 80m) defined by an earthen bank with a lot of stone (at W: Wth of base 6m; H 0.8m) separated by a fosse (at W: Wth of top 5m; max. D 0.9m) from an external bank (at W: Wth of base 5.5m; H 0.65m) (max. ext. diam. 105m). There are a number of gaps in the banks, the largest (Wth 11m) being at SSW with another (Wth 6.5m) at SSE, but none appears to be original. Within the inner bank is an eccentrically placed enclosure (diam. 67m) defined by a silted ditch (Wth c. 2-3m) surrounding its domed interior. The field system (ME019-027----) appears to be contemporary and field boundaries are attached to the large enclosure. Seasonal archaeological excavation (02E0726) between 2002 and 2004 revealed that there is a burial ground enclosed by two sub-circular ditches of 6th-10th century AD date at the centre but the relationship with the two visible outer banks is not absolutely established (Stout G & M 2008). The inner enclosure (dims 48m NW-SE; 40m NE-SW) is defined by a ditch, varying in form from V-shaped (Wth 2.45; D 0.9m) to flat-bottomed (Wth 1.95m; D 0.65m) with slight evidence of an internal bank in a sterile yellow clay (Wth 1.8m; H c. 0.2m). A blue glass bead and an Anglo-Saxon mount were in the topsoil over the ditch but charcoal samples from its base produce radiocarbon dates of 573-658 cal. AD. The burial ground may have been further delimited by a NE-SW wall footing with two outer drains at NW as no graves were found NW of these features. A total of 52 burials were exposed in the central and southern portions of the innermost enclosure but the human remains were in a very poor state of preservation. Twenty seven adults and six juveniles were recorded but of the adults only six males and three females could be identified positively. All but three of the burials were orientated approximately W-E with the head at W. One burial produced a radiocarbon date of 597-673 cal. AD. The graves were mainly in shallow, unmarked and unprotected grave-cuts, but at the SE edge of the exposed burials there were 10 slab-lined graves. The middle enclosure (max. ext. dims 74m NW-SE; 62.5m NE-SW) was defined by a ditch (at W: Wth of top 3.7m; D 1.1m: at NE: Wth of top 3.1m; D 0.84m) with traces of an inner bank (at W: Wth 4m; H 0.2m). Charcoal from the bottom of the ditch produced a radiocarbon date of 662-805 cal. AD. There were no burials in the middle enclosure but there was evidence of metalworking at SE in a spread of charcoal enriched soils (D 0.5m) with heat shattered stones and burnt clay fragments over a metalled surface. No furnaces were found but much of the cinders were inorganic in origin. Beneath the cobbled surface were three post-holes, one of which produced a radiocarbon date of 637-769 cal. AD (ibid. 45-9). A bronze baluster-headed ring-pin was found in the topsoil that covered a slab-lined grave. Radiocarbon dates suggest a gradual expansion of the earthworks outwards from c. 600AD for the innermost ditch to c. 700 AD for the middle ditch, but while absolute dates are not available the outer banks may have been constructed between the 9th and 10th centuries. The excavation produced a fine assemblage of early medieval material. Exceptional pieces were a gilt bronze Anglo-Saxon mount, a sperm whale's tooth and a Hiberno-Norse strap end. The combination of burial and metalworking in separate though related parts of the monument suggest it may have been a secular cemetery. The above description is derived from the published 'Archaeological Inventory of County Meath' (Dublin: Stationery Office, 1987), no. 1311. In this instance the entry has been revised and updated in the light of recent research. Revised by: Caimin O'Brien Date of upload: 11 November 2013 Amended: 8 June 2021

Description Source: National Monuments Service, Department of Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

Monument Details

53.7048, -6.48802

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