On Summer Solstice June 21st, in the shadow of the famous Passage Tomb itself, the launch of the final volume of a remarkable publication series on the Neolithic passage tomb of Knowth took place.
Volume 7 of the Royal Irish Academy’s Knowth Excavation Series was launched by the Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan T.D. at the Knowth Visitor Centre, which is run by the Office of Public Works.
Knowth is one of the three great passage tombs that form the core of the Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Property in County Meath, the other two being Newgrange and Dowth. Archaeological excavations at Knowth, under the direction of the late George Eogan, MRIA, then at the Department of Irish archaeology in TCD and later Professor of Celtic Archaeology in UCD, commenced in 1962 and continued seasonally until 2000.
Since excavations finished, the focus has been on publishing the results – six previous volumes have been published by the Royal Irish Academy dealing with the history of Knowth and its hinterland, the excavation of the smaller satellite tombs, the prehistoric and early medieval settlement at the site, the finds from the site and the passage tomb archaeology.
This final Volume 7, by Professor George Eogan and under the archaeological editorship of Professor Elizabeth Shee-Twohig, deals with the megalithic art of the tombs- the Knowth art, carved c. 3,200BC when the tomb was built, is the largest concentration of such art anywhere in Europe, and is dominated by the remarkable decoration of the kerbstones.
The launch was timed to celebrate the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, such auspicious astronomical dates being considered of great ritual importance to those who built these great monuments. The launch also marked the 60th anniversary, almost to the day, of Professor Eogan commencing his excavations at Knowth. This is a landmark publication of international significance, and the entire series will be a standard reference for prehistoric archaeology for years to come.
Sadly, Professor Eogan passed away last November, aged 91, and the launch was very much a tribute to him and a celebration of his work. Professor Eogan’s wife Fiona and family were in attendance.
"It has been the Royal Irish Academy’s privilege to publish the output of the excavations that began at Knowth 60 years ago under the direction of the late Professor George Eogan, MRIA, in our Excavations at Knowth series,” said President of the Royal Irish Academy, Professor Mary Canning. “I am delighted that thanks to our colleagues at the National Monuments Service and the Office of Public Works we can celebrate the anniversary of the excavations and the launch of The megalithic art of the Passage tombs at Knowth, here at the site, in the company of Professor Eogan’s family and many of the archaeologists, researchers and experts who worked with him over the years”.
George Eogan BA, PhD, DLitt, LittD(hc), MRIA, FSA, was an Irish archaeologist with particular interest in the Neolithic and Late Bronze Ages. He was professor emeritus of Celtic Archaeology at University College Dublin. He was the director of the Knowth excavations for almost 40 years, as part of his research into the passage tomb builders in Ireland and Western Europe, and the results of his work in this area were published in an extensive series of books and papers. He also served as a member of Seanad Éireann.
Extending a warm welcome to all attendees and in particular to Professor Eogan’s wife Fiona and family, Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works Patrick O’Donovan T.D. said he was also delighted to join the celebrations in Knowth.
“The OPW is 25 years this month welcoming visitors to the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Newgrange and Knowth though Bru na Boinne Visitor Centre, and we remember most importantly, Professor George Eogan’s work, which he began 60 years ago this week with excavations at Knowth that revealed the largest passage tomb site in Western Europe,” said Deputy O’Donovan.
“As custodians of Ireland’s most iconic and recognisable heritage sites, the Office of Public Works is proud to build and maintain that connection between the past, present and future, and I want to thank all those in the community, in academia and in our partner organisations who support us in deepening and strengthening that bond. This publication was funded by the National Monuments Service, the Heritage Council and Meath County Council”.