Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.
Five of the satellite mounds at Knowth.
Five of the satellite mounds at Knowth, with the great mound top left.

Satellites at Knowth

When Macalister examined the site of Knowth in the 1940's, there were no traces of the satellites to be seen. There was just the one large mound in the field. He noticed some boulders away from the main mound and concluded that there may have been more sites. Little did anyone suspect what lay hidden beneath the grass.

The major excavation and reconstruction of Knowth took place over 40 years and reached its conclusion around 2000. Professor George Eogan has devoted most of his career to the site.

Plan of Site 16 at Knowth.
Plan of Site 16 at Knowth.

Over the years, the stones and pits of some seventeen (numbered 2 - 18) smaller mounds were discovered. These satellite mounds range around the central mound on all sides and average about 12 m in diameter, though the largest (2 & 15) are 20 - 22 meters in diameter. Several were too destroyed to make out much of their shape or plan, so they are indicated by circles in the clickable plan below.

A plan of Knowth
A plan of Knowth, showing the two passages and sixteen of the satellite mounds. Circles show approximate size and locations. Plan adapted from George Eogan's book, Knowth.

Several interesting things can be said about these satellites. The way they are clustered around the main mound is similar to the arrangement found at Carrowmore in Sligo, though there are far more monuments at Carrowmore. Also, many of the Knowth satellites are oriented towards the main mound - more than likely to the location of a pre-mound feature. The satellites are older than the main site, as two of them were altered to accomodate the kerb of the big mound.

The Taoiseach, Mr Haughey, leaving one of the tombs at Knowth
The Taoiseach, Mr Haughey, leaving one of the tombs at Knowth, in the Boyne Valley, during his visit there yesterday. The tombs are being excavated by the archeological department of UCD. (Photograph: Eddie Kelly, Irish Times, Wednesday, August 27, 1980).

There are a wide range of chamber styles to be found in the satellite mounds. They range from simpler 'undifferenciated' chambers within eight of the sites, five with cruciform chambers, and the remainder were too disturbed in later times to reconstruct their likely appearance.

Plan of Site 2 at Knowth.
Plan of Site 2 at Knowth.

Many of the passages and chambers seem to have been oriented towards a lunar event; for example Site 2 the largest of the Knowth satellite mounds is oriented towards the rising position of an extreme lunstice.

Satellites 12, 13 and 14
Satellites 12, 13 and 14 (right to left) and the huge main mound at Knowth.

During the reconstruction of the main mound, vast amounts of soil were removed to be replaced with lighter materials such as styrofoam—to relieve pressure on the internal structures.

This removed material was later used to reconstruct the satellites. Interestingly enough, several of these sites may never have been covered, but been free-standing monuments, the earliest form of passage graves found in Ireland, such as the circles at Carrowmore.

Satellites 5 and 7 looking east to the west entrance of Knowth.
Satellites 5 and 7 looking east to the west entrance of Knowth.