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Book Review: Historical Knowth and Its Hinterlands by Francis John Byrne, William Jenkins, et al

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Over the past five years or so, Ireland has become a hotbed of archaeological discovery. It actually began some years before, when the Irish economy underwent a huge growth spurt. When Ireland became more inviting to people looking to escape exorbitant taxes in other countries and parts of the world, the need for new construction quickly became evident. Before then, the country had been one of the sick men of Europe, where innovation was barely in the dictionary and entrepreneurs were a rare breed. Since then, the new construction has been turning up new sites by the dozen.

If you follow archaeological news, or if you’re simply interested in reading an entertaining weekly email publication on world archaeology, check out Stone Pages, a free weekly email. It’s a good source for McNews of the archaeological world, and it covers the entire world. I’ve been a subscriber for several years, and it seems that literally every week there’s a minimum of one article on recent discoveries in the Auld Sod. Stone Pages was where I first learned of this book and is reader-supported, all run by the husband and wife team (and family) of Paola Arosio & Diego Meozzi.

One fact regarding archaeology in Ireland that people are seldom aware of is that some sites here are older than Stonehenge. Some are even older than the pyramids of Giza in Egypt.

Historical Knowth and Its Hinterlands is the fourth in a series beginning in 1984 detailing the excavations at Knowth. Knowth is part of the ancient Brugh na Bóinne complex which includes the areas of Newgrange and Dowth. This entire area is vastly complex, necessitating the lengthy, (with still much more to come) excavations and investigations into the history. The discoveries and the artifacts from this area have been immensely valuable in helping scholars trace the history, the society, and the lifestyle of those living there through the ages.

The book is broadly broken into three segments:  The early history of Knowth, written by Catherine Swift and Francis John Byrne; Late Medieval Brugh na Bóinne, 1142-1541, written by Gillian Kenny; and Settlement society and landscape in Brugh na Bóinne since the mid-16th century, by William Jenkins.  There’s also an introduction by the director of Knowth excavations, George Eogan; an appendix contains the 1901 census manuscripts, which helped flesh out some details.  There are also 30 figures, 31 plates and a glossary


Francis John Byrne is professor emeritus of early Irish history at University College Dublin; William Jenkins is an associate professor of geography at York University, Toronto; Gillian Kenny teaches medieval history at University College Dublin; and Catherine Swift is director of Irish Studies at Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick.


Brugh na Bóinne’s prehistoric period “… provides the district with a status that distinguishes it not only within Ireland, but in Europe as a whole.”  The depth and breadth of the scientific meanings and the cultural significance given to the passage tombs in the area are of special importance in the context of European and Irish history.


Historical Knowth and Its Hinterlands is a much-needed addition to the series, and I’m certain there will be at least a few more volumes in this series.

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