A Grooved Ware Wooden Structure at Knowth, Boyne Valley, Ireland

By Eogan, George; Roche, Helen | Antiquity, June 1994 | Go to article overview

A Grooved Ware Wooden Structure at Knowth, Boyne Valley, Ireland


Eogan, George, Roche, Helen, Antiquity


A new find at Knowth, the site in eastern Ireland famous for its complex of Neolithic passage-tombs, of a wooden structure associated with that enigmatic later Neolithic material, Grooved Ware.

Excavations at Knowth have revealed a sequence of stages which represent human activity from the earliest Neolithic to post-medieval times (Eogan 1991). The prehistoric stage of settlement commenced with the arrival of the first farmers, who lived in rectangular houses. This was followed by a complex within the same tradition; rectangular houses were again being used but an enlargement of settlement took place. The third phase, the passage tomb complex, was an important stage characterized by domestic settlement but also by the building of large and impressive tombs. In particular the tombs indicate the presence of a sophisticated and dynamic society. Recent excavation has revealed that this complex was succeeded by a Grooved Ware horizon, which in turn was succeeded by Beaker settlement. The ensuing Bronze Age is absent at Knowth; even in Brugh na Boinne as a whole evidence is negligible.

Formerly, evidence for Grooved Ware at Knowth was slight, but the monument that has recently come to light confirms a definite presence. This new evidence is provided by a circular wooden structure and associated finds. In the Knowth stratigraphic sequence it is above passage tomb settlement and below Beaker habitation derived debris, which suggests a date towards the end of the Neolithic. The lack of evidence for a hearth or associated domestic debris indicates its function as a place where communal or ritual practices took place.

The structure

The structure is located about 12 m east of the entrance to the Eastern Tomb in the large mound (Eogan 1986: 35-43). The building measures 9.11 x 8.10 m externally and 6.70 x 6.28 m internally, and is defined by 33 post-pits which would have held 35 upright wooden posts. In addition there was a further pit (no. 11a), but it did not appear to hold a post. The entrance, on the eastern side, consists of four large post-pits up to 1.32 m in diameter and up to 1.30 m in depth. The two outer post-pits at the entrance, the only examples to have held two upright posts each (nos. 29/30-31/32), are flanked by three post-pits on the northern side. (nos. 26-28) and three pits on the southern side (nos. 33-35). It has not been conclusively established whether the latter three pits held posts; nevertheless, this elaborate arrangement suggests a porch. Four large post-pits, up to 1.29 m in diameter and 1.24 m in depth, form an almost perfect rectangle in the interior of the structure. This internal pattern in conjunction with the facade and the relatively small size of the structure suggests that it may have been roofed. It should be emphasized that the entire layout is symmetrical, structured around an east-west axis defined by a diameter running through the entrance. The entrance faces east, as is the case with the Eastern Tomb in the large mound.

Individual post-pits vary somewhat, especially in their depths; some are cylindrical, while others taper gradually from mouth to base. The most substantial are the four inside and the four which form the entrance. Those forming the rest of the circle and facade are, as a rule, smaller, 50-80 cm in diameter and 66 cm-1.18 m in depth. The stratigraphic order within the pits is fairly consistent. The following sequence of back-filling is suggested as a reasonable reconstruction as to how the builders went about their task. The pit was dug, then a wooden post was placed in an upright position. This work was carried out in an ordered manner as practically all the posts were placed against or near the interior edge of the pit. The pit was back-filled carefully in three portions: in the outer fill, shale, with a limited amount of boulder clay but no artefacts, was packed firmly into the pit; for the post shaft area, packing stones, brown earth and, most significantly, artefacts were placed around the immediate area of the post. …

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