Thursday, June 21, 2012

New Knowth book by Professor George Eogan launched

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan, TD, today (Wednesday 20 June, 2012), commemorated 50 years of excavations by Professor George Eogan at the great passage tomb at Knowth, Co Meath, dating back to 3,000 BC. The occasion was marked by the launch of the fifth in a series of Knowth publications by Professor Eogan - ‘The Archaeology of Knowth in the First and Second Millennium AD’.

The Knowth passage tombs, along with those at Newgrange and Dowth, form part of the Brú na Bóinne archaeological complex inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.  The Brú na Bóinne tombs, in particular Knowth, contain the largest collection of megalithic art in Western Europe. The archaeological excavations on the site have contributed significantly to the knowledge of Ireland’s earliest farmers, including burial places, rituals, ceremonies and the sophistication of their society and economies.

“It is humbling to think” the Minister said “that some 5,000 years ago, when these tombs were built of the enormity of the effort which skilled craftsmen put into creating these tombs and passage ways.  These tombs are older than Stonehenge in England and they are also older than the Pyramids in Egypt.”

Describing the world heritage site at Brú na Bóinne as the jewel in the crown of our cultural heritage’, Minister Deenihan went onto say, “the wonderful carved stones, together with those at Newgrange and Dowth, constitute the largest collection of megalithic art in the world. I cannot over emphasise how important I believe it is for people to come and visit the Brú na Bóinne site and witness first-hand the magnitude of the feat which was achieved in building these mounds. It is by learning and honouring our past that we can appreciate the present”  added Minister Deenihan.

Minister Deenihan then presented Professor Eogan with a replica of the basin stone found in the tomb as a memento of his lifetime work at the site. The Minister remarked that Professor Eogan, who first discovered the passage tomb in 1968, ‘was probably the first person to see the chamber and the decorated stone basin since the 10th Century.’
The Bru na Boinne Visitor Centre, operated by the Office of Public Works, is open all year round, with access to Knowth available seven days a week from April to October.

The Archaeology of Knowth in the First and Second Millennium AD, is published by the Royal Irish Academy and can be purchased via their website -

Friday, June 8, 2012

Free summer solstice event at Beaghmore stone circles

Astronomers from the Armagh Observatory and the Irish Astronomical Association (IAA), and archaeologists from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), are joining forces on Thursday 21st June, the summer solstice (BST), for a day of fascinating and participative education and learning activities at Beaghmore Stone Circles, County Tyrone. The summer solstice marks the longest day of the year, and this year’s event follows the highly successful series of activities provided at this important Bronze-Age site last January as part of the BBC’s “Stargazing LIVE” programme.

Beaghmore Stone Circles. Photo: © Steve Emerson
Everyone is welcome to this event, which will showcase not just the astronomical alignments that are built into the site but also its puzzling archaeology and how these bits of the jigsaw fit into our understanding of the physical and historic landscape surrounding the site’s construction more than 4,000 years ago. In the morning, several schools have been invited to participate in archaeological and astronomical activities between 10:30 and 14:00.

Children and their teachers will hear how the Bronze-age people who built the stone circles and rows might have lived and how they constructed the stone circles. The children will learn how to make a stone circle and have a go at making a clay pot. They will also learn about the stars, planets and Seasons, and why the summer solstice is the longest day of the year. The astronomers participating in this morning session are supporting a new education and public outreach programme called European Universe Awareness (EU-UNAWE). This programme, which involves scientists in five European countries and South Africa, is funded through the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement 263325. It is directed mainly at young and disadvantaged children with the important aim of using the beauty and grandeur of the Universe to encourage them to have an interest in science and technology and a sense of global citizenship from the earliest age.

In the long term, EU-UNAWE will help to produce the next generation of engineers and scientists and raise awareness that we are all part of a much larger global and space-based European community. Universe Awareness (UNAWE) was founded five years ago and is already active in more than 40 countries comprising a network of almost 500 astronomers, teachers and educators worldwide. Later in the day, from 16:00 to 20:00 this free event is open to adults and families. Here, they will have the opportunity to participate in astro-archaeological tours at 17:00 and 19:00, led by NIEA archaeologist Claire Foley and astronomer Mark Bailey, Director of Armagh Observatory. Weather permitting, visitors will also have a chance, courtesy of members of the Irish Astronomical Association, to obtain a safe view of the Sun through special astronomical telescopes and, under the supervision of NIEA archaeologists, to participate in a real research survey into the surrounding peat bog to see if further stones can be identified by “bog probing”.

 The Beaghmore Stone Circle complex, County Tyrone, is located roughly halfway between Cookstown and Omagh, close to An Creagán and approximately an hour’s drive from either Armagh or Belfast. It is one of the most important stone-circle sites on the island of Ireland and discovered less than a hundred years ago during peat cutting in the 1940s and 1950s. There are three pairs of open stone circles and a single in-filled one built of quite low stones, and each circle is associated with a double alignment or “stone row” pointing roughly in the direction of midsummer sunrise or midwinter sunset. The combination of circles and alignments at Beaghmore is matched at other sites in Northern Ireland, and many, but by no means all, appear to have been designed as pointers to parts of the horizon that saw the rising or setting of the Sun or Moon.