Knowth consists of one large mound containing two passage tombs surrounded by eighteen smaller mounds. The largest of the mounds is known as Site 1. This great monument covers about half a hectare (approx. 1.5acre) and is 95m across at its widest point. Around the entrances to the tombs are settings of unusual stones such as quartz, granite and banded stones. Smaller tombs, some of which are connected to the large tomb, cluster around the great mound.
For more information on the A section of the Great Mound of Knowth and its tombs, please view the educational resources section.
There are two separate passage tombs within the largest mound, one with an entrance facing approximately east and the other facing approximately west. The tombs are not connected though the distance between the back of the eastern tomb and the back of the western tomb is only 3m.
The eastern tomb at Knowth consists of a long passage leading into a chamber with three side recesses and a beehive shaped roof built by corbelling. The passage is over 40m in length and the capstone of the chamber roof is 6m above the floor. Each of the three recesses contains a basin stone, which held the remains of the dead.
The western tomb would originally have been over 34m in total length. Its narrow passage bends to the right about three quarters of the way into the tomb. Just after the bend, there is a sill-stone and after that the passage narrows to a width of just 40cms. The passage then widens again and finally forms a rectangular shaped chamber about 2m in height and roofed with a huge 2m long stone. The basin stone now lying in the passage would originally have been in the chamber area.
Excavations revealed the plan and shape of most of the tombs and many of them have been completely reconstructed.
After the Passage Tomb builders
At Knowth, as at Newgrange, the period of passage tomb building was almost immediately followed by two other phases of ritual activity. We know that there was a shift in customs because new and different types of pottery and implements were found as well as different types of structures.
In front of the eastern tomb at Knowth, archaeologists found evidence of a circular timber monument built by people who used Grooved Ware pottery (c2,500BC) This wooden structure was about 9m in diameter and the central part of it may have been roofed.
There is evidence of people living at Knowth around c.2,300BC using Beaker pottery. A burial with a Beaker pot was placed in one of the earlier passage tombs (Site 15).
Following the Beaker period there is an absence of evidence for any ritual activity at the site for nearly 2000 years. In the early centuries AD, people again started to leave their dead at Knowth but this time the ritual was burial rather than cremation. Thirty-five graves were found by archaeologists, many of them containing the bones of women.
Two or three centuries later, in the early Christian era, the great mound of Knowth was transformed into a massive defended site. Two huge ditches were dug, one at the base of the mound, the other near the top. The site continued in use as a defended location right through to the Middle Ages.
Between the eight and twelfth centuries, there was quite a large village settlement on and around the big mound. Archaeologists have recovered a wide range of sophisticated artefacts from this period as well as evidence of houses and souterrains (underground tunnels) used for storage or for hiding and escape.
In the Norman period, the mound of Knowth and the surrounding lands became part of the estates of the great Cistercian Abbey of Mellifont.
Professor George Eogan began excavating in 1962 and the excavations continued for over forty years. Knowth is now rightly regarded as one of the most remarkable prehistoric monuments in the world.