After the abandonment of the passage tomb cemetery for burial at the end of the Neolithic and the desertion of the site during the Early Bronze Age the area was disused for almost two millennia. Discrete burials (ME019-030061-) began to be placed close to the main mound in the first century BC but these had ceased by the eight century AD when the mound was converted into an embanked occupation enclosure or rath. This may have coincided with a move by the northern branch of the Síl nÁedó Sláine from Slane to Knowth. This sept of the Uí Néill dynasty would become explicitly associated with Cnogba in the tenth century, by which time the mound had become an undefended settlement cluster (ME019-030060-).
The mound was converted into a rath by digging two ditches, one around its top and the other at the base. An entrance ramp through the upper (Wth c. 14m) and lower (Wth 6m) fosses was left at SE, but as the summit of the mound was quarried in the nineteenth century no house sites or structures relating to the ditches survived. The outer ditch was dug inside the line of the passage tomb kerb, was generally V-shaped (Wth of top c. 5m; D c. 2.3m) in profile, and penetrated the subsoil at most points but it has no associated bank as the mound rose steeply over its inner edge. The upper ditch survived less well but had a U-shaped profile (at E: Wth of top c. 5m; int. D c. 2-3m) that is often reduced to an inner scarp (H c. 2m), and no bank associated with it survives. Some stone revetting was found in parts of both ditches, and the material from them was accumulated outside the outer fosse. Very few artefacts were recovered from the fosses but samples of animal bone from the outer ditch and charcoal from the summit produced radiocarbon dates ranging from AD 710-975.
When the outer fosse was being constructed the entrances to both the E and W tombs were encountered, and the E tomb was later incorporated into a souterrain from the open settlement of the tenth and eleventh centuries. The fosse seems never to have been cleaned out and stratigraphy in the lower ditch illustrates continuous erosion layers but by the late eight century a humus developed, suggesting that there was a hiatus before an open settlement was established with 15 houses, some built in the ditches of the rath over an introduced layer of brown earth. There was no evidence that either fosse was re-cut anywhere at any time. Some artefacts of seventh – eight century date were recovered in secondary contexts, including two sherds of E-ware. A section of the outer ditch is displayed in a room within the mound close to the entrance of Tomb 1C East. (Eogan 2012, 71-83)
Some of the most important results from the medieval stages of the mound are derived from the analysis of the faunal remains. Over 8000 bone fragments were recovered, of which 14% related to the rath, 75% to the open settlement and 10% to the high medieval enclosure (ME019-030062-). All three stages were dominated by cattle followed by sheep and pig at less than half the cattle numbers, but there was a marked decline from 50% to c. 40% of cattle numbers between the rath and the open settlement coinciding with increases in the numbers of pigs especially, and sheep. Cattle were used for traction, and would always provide over 80% of the meat when slaughtered but they and the sheep have secondary products in milk, hides and wool that could influence the age of slaughter. The results show that 35-40% of cattle were slaughtered at more than three years of age indicating that they were retained for dairy, while most of the others were slaughtered between 15 and 33 months, probably on achieving maturity and maximum weight. Most of the sheep were slaughtered between 12 and 28 months, suggesting that wool was not a factor, although the proportion of older animals would increase from c. 15% in the rath to c. 30% in the open settlement, and to 40% in the high medieval enclosure. Pigs have only one product, and a consistent age of slaughter between 17 and 23 months coincides with the stage at which the animal reaches maturity and maximum weight. (McCormick and Murray 2007)
The animals were butchered at the site and many cattle bones bore the visible signs, including the splitting of the backbone, the smashing of the skull and the splitting of longbones to extract the marrow. Some lower limb bones where there would be little meat also had knife-marks, indicating the skinning of the carcass. There were no particular concentrations of bones that would suggest the proximity of an abattoir or a kitchen, or of particular species in particular areas, apart from the whole or partial articulated remains of five sheep in medieval house 4 of the open settlement, which may have become a repository for discarded carcasses or joints. While the dairy economy suggested by the cattle bones is in accord with the importance of dairying in the early Irish Laws (Kelly 1997), the slaughter of sheep at maturity is at variance with the same laws where the harvesting of wool was an important issue, unless the wool of older animals was too coarse to use.
Compiled by: Michael Moore
Date of upload: 17 September 2020
See the attached illustrations:
_1 Site plan from Knowth 5, Fig. 3:8
_2 Sections through the lower fosse from Knowth 5, Fig. 3:10
Description Source: National Monuments Service, Department of Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.