is an Irish Archaeologist with particular interest in the Neolithic
and Late Bronze Ages. A first degree at University College Dublin was followed
by a doctoral thesis on Irish Late Bronze Age swords at Trinity College Dublin
under Frank Mitchell. In the 1950's he worked with
P.J. Hartnett on the Neolithic passage tomb at Fourknocks
, and with Sean
O Riordain at the Mound of the Hostages on the
Hill of Tara
He was the Director of the Knowth Research Project and excavated at
Knowth for more than 40 years as part of his investigation of the Passage Tomb
builders in Ireland and Western Europe. Professor Eogan is a native of Nobber,
Co. Meath in Ireland and has taught and lectured extensively on Irish
Excavation at Knowth
The excavation at Knowth is one of the greatest pieces of archaeology of our
time. On June 18th 2002 it was my privilege to be there with some students forty
years to the day from the start of the excavation. After touring the site,
George Eogan invited us over to a large caravan in the farmyard across the road
to join the anniversary celebrations with Knowth trowellers, workmen and other
local folk. This year I returned to Ireland to see George again, and to find out
more about George Eogan. Why did he choose to spend the greater part of his life
excavating at one site? And what was it like to be the first person in a
thousand years to enter a great Neolithic passage tomb?
You've been working at the site, on and off, for 50 years now. Is it slow, deliberate work or have there
been any dramatic Tutankhamun-esque breakthroughs?
There were two such moments, in fact. Once, in 1967, we discovered a small hole
on the western side of the mound. I uttered an exclamation, took my flash lamp
and entered the passage. This, in turn, led to a very impressive chamber. The whole
thing was over 100ft in length. It was very dramatic. The next year, we discovered
a similar chamber on the eastern side. It was about 20ft high and extremely well constructed.
Initially there was no evidence that the mound contained tombs. Having begun
to excavate on its northern side, we gradually moved westward and by the end
kerb, but these were suspected at the time to be associated with one of the
nearby small passage-tombs. Leaving the site in August of that year, we had
no definite clue as to the location of an entrance into the mound.
At Knowth, however, the orientation of the great mound suggests that there
could have been two ceremonies at different times, the vernal equinox
on March 20th or 21st, and the autumnal equinox on September 22nd or 23rd.
at these times, the sun rises and sets directly in the east and west,
while day and night have equal lengths. The spring equinox represents
the beginning of the growing season, and the harvest would have been
gathered at the autumnal equinox.
Knowth and the passage-tombs of Ireland
by George Eogan.
George Eogan describes in vivid detail the dramatic discovery of not one but two tombs
within the central mound, their narrow passages and decorated chambers hitherto unseen
by man since ancient times. Built back to back, the tombs, George Eogan argues, were
used for burials and very likely for ceremonies celebrating the rising and setting
sun at spring and autumn equinox. Ritual deposits in the chambers included an
exquisitely carved flint mace-head, hailed by experts as one of the finest pieces
ever to come out of prehistoric Ireland.
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