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Ancient High Kings of Brega uncovered

An article from the Drogheda Leader newspaper, July 28th, 2004

Excavation team

The team of excavators who took part in the archaeological dig at Site M during July 2004. Click for larger version.

Excavations reveal Site M near Knowth was a burial enclosure

AN enigmatic series of earthworks near the world-famous megalithic site at Knowth may have been the resting place of the ancient Kings of Brega, recent excavations have revealed.

A third and final season of excavations has confirmed that an enigmatic series of earthen banks and ditches was an ancestral cemetery. Only fields away from the world famous passage tomb at Knowth, the monument known as "Site M"has been in use as a burial ground from the time of St Patrick to the 10th century.

The site is the subject of a research programme funded by the Royal Irish Academy and directed by Dr. Geraldine Stout of the Archaeological Survey of Ireland and Dr. Matthew Stout of St. Patrick's College, Drumcondra. The importance of the site was confirmed by the exciting discovery of a decorated bronze pin, a fragment of a bone comb and multiple burials in simple pits and more elaborate slab lined graves. One of the burial slabs used was a re-used portion of a Neolithic passage tomb complete with megalithic art!

Geraldine Stout was very pleased with the results of the third season; "we had a large workforce this year and explored a large proportion of the enclosure, we can now be confident that the site was primarily a burial ground".
This year's dig was facilitated by a geophysical survey undertaken by Drogheda company Earthsound Geophysics. "The 'geophys' helped us identify areas without ditches or burials", explained Matthew Stout, "and tests within these zone revealed no definite evidence for domestic activity".

Deirdre Russell excavates one of the slab-lined graves at Site M. Click for big pic.

The most exciting discovery of the excavation occurred through the diligence of Deirdre Russell, local archaeologist and Hon. Secretary of the County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society.

While washing the rough hewn stone slabs, Deirdre spotted twin spirals picked out in the stone in the style found in the 5000-year-old passage tombs of Knowth and Newgrange. "I was just thrilled when I found the decoration on the stone, I am so happy to have added to the collection of megalithic art from the Boyne Valley".

The burials, which are the true story of Knowth Site M, were examined in situ by local human bone expert Laureen Buckley. Working beneath canvas in the pouring rain, Laureen extracted the most information possible from the tangle of burials on the site.

She was ably assisted by Deirdre Russell and Navan’s Arlene Coogan, a student of Heritage Studies at Dundalk IT. Buckley's analysis of the skeletons will be the ‘backbone’ of the excavation report to be published in 2005.

Megalithic Art

The megalithic art discovered on one of the grave stones at Knowth Site M. Click for larger version.

The directors, Geraldine and Matthew Stout from Julianstown are very grateful to their hard working crew and the many volunteers from America, Britain and Ireland. These included volunteers from Notre Dame University in the United States, and from the Diploma in Archaeology Course at UCD.

Ben Devine of Tullyallen spearheaded the excavation crew. The site's photographer was Hugh McElveen of Annesbrook House in Duleek. Locals Kate Sweetman, Gwynn McElveen, Shauna McCabe, Emer McKeown, Joe McCormack, Alan Russell, Ian Russell Nóra Stout, Helen Stout and artist Richard Moore also contributed to the excavation's success.

The Office of Public Works were very generous in providing support facilities and spacious accommodation at Knowth House. The excavators especially wished to acknowledge the assistance of Drogheda's Colm O'Brien of the OPW. Pascal Hand and his family were once again very helpful in allowing the team to excavate on his land.
The directors of the excavation are sorry to see the dig at Knowth come to an end.

Geraldine Stout, author of Newgrange and the Bend of the Boyne (published in 2003 by Cork University Press) told this reporter "we have had a wonderful time, made some wonderful friends and at the same time solved the mystery of Knowth Site M. After publishing our report, we both hope to be digging with this crew again, perhaps solving other mysteries within the Bend of the Boyne."

FURTHER READING

During the first season of excavations at Site M, in 2002, archaeologists found a gold artefact. Read more here.
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