The Knowth Macehead - Neolithic period (c 3000-2500 BC)

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This decorated flint macehead  demonstrates the simple but superbly elegant design, technical ability and artistry of a Neolithic period craftsman.

The macehead was found during archaeological excavation in the eastern tomb of the main passage grave mound at Knowth in the Boyne Valley, Co Meath in 1982.

The 3D model clearly demonstrates the superb quality of the ornament carved in relief on all six faces. It is likely that the shaft hole through the macehead originally held a wooden haft or handle. However, this was clearly a high prestige object which was never intended for use as a tool and it shows no signs of wear.

On one surface there is a c-shaped scroll which may represent the the eyes of a human face with the shaft hole representing a gaping mouth. Other designs and motifs represented include spirals over a number of the surfaces and interlocking elongated lozenges on the ends of the macehead. Another undecorated example was also found at Knowth.

Three antler pins, typically found in passage graves, were also uncovered nearby in a pit associated with the discovery.

The macehead dates from before the introduction of metalworking in Ireland and therefore, the level of craftsmanship achieved is even more remarkable as only stone tools would have been available to the craftsman who produced it.

It may have been the prized possession of an important leader in some way associated with the building or use of the great eastern tomb at Knowth in the Boyne Valley. No other macehead with comparable decoration has ever been found in Ireland.

By any standards, it is one of the finest examples of prehistoric period craftsmanship in the collections of the National Museum of Ireland. The Knowth macehead is currently on display in the Prehistoric Ireland exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland in Kildare Street, Dublin.

The Food Vessel

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This funerary vessel

Bronze Age food vessel, Keenoge, Co Meath

Miniatur bowl type food vessel found during the excavation of an Early Bronze Age cemetery near Duleek, Co Meath. It is one of 9 complete decorated vessels found at this site almost exactly 75 years ago. Over 300 bowl food vessels are know to have been found in Ireland, usually accompanying cist or pit burials. The vessel has a tripartite body which provides for 3 distinct areas for decoration. This vessel which is decorated with comb impressions, chevrons and horizontal lines amongst other motifs, was found to have accompanied the remains of a child lying on its right side within the cist. The cist was a simple small rectangular structure consisting of 2 long stone slabs and 2 short ones. A cruciform pattern on the base of the vessel is similar to those found on Early Bronze Age period gold sun discs. Other discoveries at this cemetery site included much larger cordon and encrusted urns, a bronze razor and flint artifacts

Copyright : National Museum of Ireland

 dating to the Early Bronze Age was one of nine complete vessels of this type excavated at Keenoge, near Duleek in Co Meath. The excavation was directed by the then Director of the National Museum, Dr Adolf Mahr between 1929 and 1936.

The site, a flat cemetery consisted of six cist burials and several pit burials were also excavated. Over three hundred bowl food vessels have been found in Ireland but this is the largest assemblage found at any one site.

The food vessel illustrated here, is an exceptionally fine example of a miniature bowl food vessel. It was discovered on 31 January 1929, almost exactly seventy five years ago. Its small size relative to other vessels of this type, may be due to the fact that it was designed to accompany the body of a child.

Other finds from the burials at Keenoge include both cordoned and encrusted urns, a bronze razor and flint artefacts. This food vessel was found in Burial 9 which was a small rectangular cist built from two long stone slabs and two narrow ones. There would normally have been a massive capstone over the burial but this had been moved at some earlier date. The burial contained the unburnt remains of a child which appears to have been placed in a crouched position within the cist and lying on its right side with its head to the west.

The vessel has a narrow rounded rim and internal bevel and has a tripartite body form providing for three distinct areas of decoration.The decorative motifs include horizontal lines, convex and concave impressions, comb impressions and chevrons. A cruciform pattern on the base of the vessel is reminiscent of the design and layout of early Bronze Age gold sun discs in the Museums collections.

Several gold sun discs are to be seen in the National Museum's prehistoric gold exhibition in the Kildare Street premises of the National Museum in Dublin.

A boar's tusk was found at the other end of the cist, also perhaps intended to accompany the child into the afterlife.

Further Information


In September 2001 the National Museum of Ireland's Unpublished Burials Project was initiated. The aim of the project is to bring to publication all previously unpublished burial excavations conducted by the staff of the Irish Antiquities Division over the past number of decades. The project encompasses a very diverse body of material, including a substantial number of early Bronze Age cist and pit burials. The excavations will be completely published, with relevant illustrations and full osteological reports. Many of the burials contained Bronze Age food vessels broadly similar to the one illustrated here.

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