Evidence of Iron Age temples uncovered at Navan Fort
During an examination of the Navan Forts in Co Armagh, Queen’s boffins uncovered evidence of a huge temple complex. The discovery at Ulster’s mythical capital, known as Emain Macha, could date back as far as the Iron Age.
The research was worked together by scholars from Queen’s, the University of Aberdeen, and the German Archaeological Institute, Frankfurt.
They believe it evidences a vast temple complex and ceremonial center of prehistoric Europe, as well as the first evidence of continued medieval activity when Navan Fort was associated with the kingship of Ulster.
Dr Patrick Gleeson, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the School of Natural and Built Environment at Queen’s, said: “Excavation in the 1960s uncovered one of the most spectacular series of buildings of any region of prehistoric Europe, including a series of figure-of-8 buildings of the Early Iron Age and a 40m timber-ringed structure constructed c.95 BC.
“Upon the latter’s construction, it was immediately filled with stones and burnt to the ground in order to create a massive mound that now dominates the site.
“Our discoveries add significant additional data, hinting that the buildings uncovered in the 1960s were not domestic structures lived in by kings, but a series of massive temples, some of the largest and most complex ritual arena of any region of later prehistoric and pre-Roman Northern Europe.”
The survey’s findings will be published in the Oxford Journey of Archaeology.
Navan Fort was one of Ireland’s so-called Royal sites – a group of five ceremonial centers of prehistoric origins that were documented in medieval times as the capitals of the five fifths that divided Ireland.
It is hoped this work to uncover what was once at Navan will “add rich discoveries to the iconic site of Navan Fort”.
But these efforts, which are part of the Comparative Kingship project funded by the Leverhulme Trust, and supported by Historic Environment Division of the Department of Communities, are in their initial stages.
Dr. John O’Keeffe, Principal Inspector of Historic Monuments in the Department for Communities, said: “We were pleased to facilitate the survey work at Navan Fort, which is owned by the Department for Communities and is one of 190 State Care Monuments in Northern Ireland managed by the Department for Communities.
“The work has shone new light on the monument and will inform further research as we explore what Navan Fort meant to our forebears and how they used the site, for years to come.
“It provides additional insights that inform visits to this enigmatic monument and landscape today.”
Navan Fort is one of Ireland’s most ancient landscapes because it is the seat of legendary kings, like Chonchobhar and mac Nessa, and provides the backdrop to the exploits of warriors like Cú Chulainn, Conal Cernach and others in the great epic saga Táin Bó Cuailainge, or the Cattle Raid of Colley.
In addition to identifying residences of early medieval kings of Ulster, activity at Navan Fort is contemporary with the foundation of Armagh by St Patrick only 1km to the east. Some of the buildings uncovered are likely to be identifiable with the house built by Níall ÓG Ua Neill for all the poets of Ireland in 1387.
It also appears that activity continued at Navan after the coming of Christianity and the foundation of Armagh, the primatial see of the Church in Ireland, is particularly significant.