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Established 16/3/2000

Archaeologists strike gold at ancient Boyne Valley ringfort

From the Drogheda Independent newspaper, August 2nd, 2002

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have struck gold at an ancient ringfort near the famous Boyne Valley passage mounds.
The highly ornamented gold piece is believed to be part of a brooch which probably dates to the Anglo-Saxon period, and it was found during the recentexcavations by Drogheda woman Gemma Byrne.

The gold artefact probably dates from the seventh century, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest the site was inhabited since much earlier, and the discovery of pieces of worked flint and the bones of prehistoric cows and pigs suggests activity at the site as far back as the Stone Age.
The new phase of excavations, which began just four weeks ago, is close to the world famous passage tomb at Knowth. The dig has revealed that an enigmatic series of earthen banks identified from aerial photography are in fact the remains of a major Early Christian settlement.

Excavations at the Site M dig, near Knowth
Work on the archaeological dig at Site M during July 2002. Picture © Anthony Murphy, 2002.

The site is the subject of a research programme funded by the Royal Irish Academy and directed by Dr Geraldine Stout of Dúchas and Dr Matthew Stout of St Patrick's College, Drumcondra. Other pieces found during excavations include Anglo-Saxon glass beads. The first four-week season of this new programme of excavations has, according to Dr Geraldine Stout, succeeded in its primary goal ­ to determine the date of the earthworks known to archaeologists as 'Site M'. Dr Stout says the area has long attracted speculation about its date and function.

'Some have said it was a prehistoric ceremonial enclosure, also known as a 'henge', while others have suggested that it was a medieval farm dating from the time of the Cistercians, but after only one season we know it is an Early Christian habitation site.'

Knowth M is enclosed by three defensive ditches containing large amounts of cattle, pig and horse bones. The evidence shows that it was used for domestic purposes and the finds point to a seventh century date.
The beauty and rarity of the decorated gold piece emphasises once again the international pre-eminence of the Boyne Valley. It is currently in the care of the National Museum, where it will be cleaned and examined for eventual display. It is only the second time gold has been found in the Brú na Bóinne area, following finds of gold and other metal objects such as Roman coins at Newgrange during excavations there in the 1970s and 80s.

Matthew Stout, a leading expert on Early Christian settlements, known as ringforts, said: 'a find like this is just what one might expect from an extremely rare, high-status triple-banked ringfort in such a strategically
important area.' During the seventh century Knowth was the capital of the kingdom of Northern Brega and the site could be associated with this phase in the valley's past.
The precise date of the site will be confirmed through the scientific dating of organic remains from the banks and ditches. Soil samples have yielded pollen, beetles and seeds. Local environmental archaeologist Joanne Hughes will be able to reconstruct what the environment was like when this enclosure was in use.

The directors, Geraldine and Matthew Stout from Julianstown, are very grateful to their hard working crew and the many volunteers from America, Australia and Ireland including Drogheda¹s own Deirdre Russell and Richard and Elizabeth Moore. Dúchas, the Heritage Service, were very generous in providing support
facilities and spacious accommodation at Knowth house. The diggers hope to return to the site next year to discover more about this impressive monument.

More about Knowth ringfort | Back to the news page

All information and photos, except where otherwise stated, copyright, © Anthony Murphy, 1999-2015
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