Part of the Disney package, so rush, rush, rush. Unfortunately, in order to visit, you must have first toured Newgrange. Otherwise, I’d strongly advise skipping that and heading here for the entire day / five days / however long your trip.
Entering the site, there is an initial feeling of disappointment, as you are faced with what appears to be a miniature mound, similar in scale to Four Knocks. Once inside, however, we were stunned to find that this was only one of 18 satellite mounds sited around the enormous central mound. When I say enormous…
The main tomb is around 90m in diameter, and contains not one, but two passages. The eastern passage is the longest in Europe, coming in at a hefty 40m in length, and terminating in the standard cruciform chamber with a corbelled roof, similar in scale to that at Newgrange. The western passage takes the number two spot, at 34m in length, but terminates not in a chamber, but in a dog-leg section.
The tomb is encircled by 127 kerb stones, giving an average of 2.5m each.
In all, there are 261 stones, including many of the kerb stones, which are covered in prehistoric art. This amounts to 45% of all prehistoric art in Ireland, and a massive 25% of known prehistoric art in the whole of Western Europe!
Many of the kerb stones include artwork on the rear, facing the monument and hidden from observation. (Cue dubious theories galore…)
Unlike at Newgrange, access to the passages and chambers is not allowed. The entrances are approximate mirror images of each other (that on the left being to the eastern passage).
Notice the kerb stone, which acts as a sill at the entrance proper, which is bisected by the standing stone. The artwork on this is a square spiral bisected by a single vertical line. This is mirrored on the western side (which unfortunately I failed to get a good image of).
The western passage, in a strange episode of what many have referred to as cultural vandalism, is now blocked by a concrete wall which appears to serve no structural purpose.
Once behind this wall, however, we find a modern built room, cut out of the mound, which acts as an interpretation centre and, behind a locked gate, we get a tantalising glimpse of the passage beyond.
In a monument with two passageways aligned E-W, it may be assumed that Knowth was intended as an observatory of the equinoxes. This has been shown not to be the case (despite what the guides will tell you) and the site is still being investigated for possible options on significant lunar sightings afforded by the two passageways. In apparent support of this, some of the carvings at the ends of the passageways can, with a stretch of the imagination, be seen as lunar maps… of course, when an archaeologist can mistake the grimace of a constipated baboon for that of a man, then what chance that the veracity of this one might be suspect?
With the number of mounds and souterrains to be investigated, and the sheer volume of art-work to be enjoyed, the limited time that you are allowed on site is incredibly frustrating. Plan ahead! 🙂
The images below are just a tiny sample of the sheer volume of artwork at the site. The good news is that the Irish Archaeologists are (rumour has it) about to publish a book containing ALL the neolithic art of the site).
The following images are (again) shamelessly borrowed from the internet, to give a flavour of the delights tucked away inside the chambers.