Thirty five inhumations recovered in excavation at the Knowth passage tomb cemetery are unrelated to the original use of the cemetery. They are discrete burials dispersed over the area around the great mound S-W-N, with concentrations at NNW and S but none were placed on the mound itself. They date from the first century BC to the eighth-ninth century AD, a period which spans the conversion of the country to Christianity and which was also a time when burial practices changed radically. Irish burial customs were influenced by British fashions, from the introduction of crouched inhumation with grave-goods in the first century to extended inhumations oriented W-E with the head at W but without grave-goods by the fourth century. However, attributing a religious affiliation on the basis of the burial rite would be an over-simplification. The burials at Knowth illustrate the entire range, including four slab-lined burials (ME019-030084-) at the end of the sequence which were placed side by side creating the concept of a cemetery. The burials at Knowth are the first sign of activity at the cemetery in over 2000 years but they are a rare occurrence, perhaps one every 20 years, and therefore are probably of individuals with some particular status, whether high or low, as there is a secular cemetery nearby at Site M (ME019-028----) c. 350m to the NE.
Radiocarbon dates of five burials (175 cal. BC to 253 cal. AD) and grave-goods confirm that 14 burials are early in the sequence, and another six with no stratigraphic context or associated grave-goods, including two represented by the skull alone, are also probably early. The interments were in pits and are equally divided between male and female, but most were younger than 30 years at the time of death. Where it could be established all were in a crouched position and grave-goods were present in all but two of the certain examples. The grave-goods vary from a single glass bead to almost 600 glass beads with a child, but bone beads and copper alloy rings together with bone dice also occur.
The later burials, with 4 radiocarbon dates ranging from 645 cal. AD to 891 cal. AD, are also equally divided between male and female but children are absent. They are generally aligned W-E, but while most of the flexed burials were in open ground many of the later burials were inserted into the passages and chambers of passage tombs, although grave-goods are completely absent. (Eogan 2012, 13-61; O’Brien 2012)
Compiled by: Michael Moore
Date of upload: 06 November 2013
Amended: 18 September 2020
See attached illustration:
_1 Distribution of burials, from Knowth 5, Fig. 2:1
Description Source: National Monuments Service, Department of Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.