Friday, February 18, 2011

Ireland - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyne (1)

NEWGRANGE MEGALITHIC PASSAGE TOMB, CO. MEATH : Along the north bank of the River Boyne is the remarkable pre-Christian cemetery Brugh na Boinne, legendary burial place of the kings. It is a series of neolithic tumuli which the three principal mounds are at Knowth, Newgrange and Dowth about 2 kms apart from one another. The Newgrange tumulus has a passageway leading to a central chamber with side recesses for burials. During the winter solstice, the rays of the sun reach the central chamber.

Sent by Claudia, a postcrosser from Ireland.

The monuments of the Bend of the Boyne display longevity of settlement whose origins are found in Neolithic settlements The various monuments, particularly the great passage tomb, represent important cultural, social, artistic and scientific developments over a considerable length of time. Nowhere else in the world is found the continuity of settlement and activity associated with a megalithic cemetery such as that which exists at Brugh na Bòinne. The passage tomb complex represents a spectacular survival of the embodiment of a set of ideas and beliefs of outstanding historical significance unequalled in its counterparts throughout the rest of Europe.

The World Heritage site of the Bend of the Boyne (Brugh na Boìnne in Irish) covers some 780 ha and takes its name from the fact that it is defined on the south, east and west sides by the River Boyne; part of the northern boundary is formed by the River Mattock. It is essentially a ridge running east-west with three low hills on it (Dowth, Knowth and Newgrange). These three great burial mounds dominate the whole area, and are surrounded by about 40 satellite passage-graves, to constitute a great prehistoric funerary landscape. Its intense ritual significance inevitably attracted later monuments, both in protohistory and in the Christian period. The importance of the site is enhanced by the fact that the River Boyne communicates both with the Celtic Sea and the heartland of Ireland, and so it has considerable economic and political significance.
The area is predominantly agricultural at the present time. It has been intensively explored for more than 100 years by archaeologists and historians, and excavation has revealed many features. The Knowth group, where the earliest features date from the Neolithic period and the latest from the Anglo-Norman period, has produced 30 monuments and sites that figure on the official inventory: these include passage graves, enclosures, occupation sites and field systems. The Newgrange group is purely prehistoric, with a ring-fort, passage graves, a cursus and a henge. The Dowth group is similar to that at Newgrange, but there is medieval evidence in the form of a church and a castle. Also included within the nominated area is the castle at Proudfootstown.
Two main historical periods can be identified among the archaeological remains in this site, and in both the Bend of the Boyne was exerting significant cultural influence over much of central Ireland and beyond: Prehistoric (3800-2200 BC); Protohistory and medieval period.
Major excavations of the great burial mounds at Newgrange and Knowth, and smaller investigations elsewhere, have revealed evidence of human occupation as early as the 4th millennium BC, but more substantial remains are known from the late Western Neolithic. These include houses, palisaded enclosures, and field systems and represent the opening up of Ireland to agriculture with the clearance of ancient woodland. Some 40 passage tombs, which testify to a higher degree of social organization and cultural evolution, are known in the area; their origins are to be found in Brittany and the western part of the Iberian Peninsula. With the arrival of Beaker influences, one of the most important indicators is the switch from circular to rectangular houses. There was little Bronze Age occupation in the area, which was not settled again until the late Iron Age. Knowth became a fortified settlement and many subsidiary burials were inserted into the great Neolithic mound; finds of imported goods testify to extensive trading connections. The early Christian period, from the 8th century AD onwards, saw the construction of three large ring-forts in the area. Knowth grew into a large undefended settlement, with rectangular houses, souterrains, extensive agricultural and industrial activity, and evidence of literacy. It was the capital of the kings of Knowth until the Anglo-Norman invasion in the 12th century. Under the Normans, the area became a centre of innovation under the control of the Cistercians, who eventually incorporated it into their system of granges or estate farms. It has remained an agricultural landscape to the present day. (Source)

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