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An outstanding Meathman dedicated to uncovering the past

Wednesday, 27th June, 2012 4:59pm

Story by Paul Murphy
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An outstanding Meathman dedicated to uncovering the past

It is now many years since George Eogan, Nobber man and archaeologist, crawled into a passage tomb at Knowth bearing a flashlight, becoming the first person in centuries to see this amazing sight, part of Brú na Bóinne, now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

That was in 1968. A year earlier, a smaller underground passage leading in from the western face of the megalithic mound had been found but the larger east-side tomb surpassed it.

In an interview with the Irish Times, he said that the western tomb was "stunning" but the east one was "huge".

"I was always so impressed with Newgrange, I thought there could never be another one, and then to discover something bigger than Newgrange, this long passage. And it's a tribute to the builders that we were able to enter both tombs on the moment of discovery. Here we were going into these tombs which were 5,000 years old and it was possible for us to enter," he said.

The Knowth archaeological dig started in 1962 and the project team has since uncovered 18 satellite tombs around the main mound.

Last week, George Eogan was honoured for his 50 years' work on excavations at Knowth and the occasion coincided with the launch of the fifth in a series of Knowth publications by the professor: 'The Archaeology of Knowth in the First and Second Millennium AD'.

The tombs contain the largest collection of megalithic art in western Europe and the work of the archaeological team has contributed enormously to our knowledge of Ireland's earliest farmers, including their burial places, rituals, ceremonies and the sophistication of their society and economies.

While he is best known for his work on Knowth, George Eogan has had other strings to his quite extensive bow. In 2005, he made an important new archaeological discovery at Teltown, also in Meath. The owners of Teltown House, Bartle and Reneé Clarke, were conscious of the historical importance of the area and wanted to ensure its preservation into the future.

During the research programme undertaken at Teltown, Prof Eogan examined a site recently cleared of vegetation and uncovered the remains of a natural rock outcrop with carved art, circular in form, was discovered.

It was a major discovery. "This type of rock art post-dates the passage tomb phase at Knowth or Newgrange and dates from about 2000BC. What is important about this discovery is the fact that it demonstrates that ritual activity was a feature of Tailteann about 2,000 years before the period when it became a great Celtic centre with its 'games' and other contemporary activity. This new discovery demonstrates that Tailteann has a much more ancient origin than has hitherto been considered," he said.

George Eogan has never been shy of speaking out when he thinks our archaeological heritage is under threat. When he was 22 years into the excavations at Knowth, he warned that unless a comprehensive State archaeological services was provided, few of our ancient monuments would be left by 2000. He put on record his view that literally thousands of monuments and artefacts had been lost. He bemoaned the fact that legislation for archaeology was 102 years old.

Since then, the 1992 European Convention on the Protection of Archaeological Heritage has been ratified by Ireland in 1997. The convention provides the basic framework on the protection of the archaeological heritage and puts an onus on the State to provide statutory protection measures, along with other protections.

When the M3 motorway was being built, the professor hit out at works going on close to the Rath Lugh national monument about 2.5kms from the Hill of Tara. He said: "Well, I can only use one word, I am horrified...it is a disastrous situation. I had known this site, I was here firstly many, many years ago, and it was a reasonably well-preserved site. But now, part of it has now been completely and absolutely destroyed. And what is happening here is one of the greatest shameful acts of cultural vandalism that took part in any part of Europe."

When the new Knowth book was published last week, it marked a life of dedication and service to Ireland's cultural history by an outstanding Meathman of our times.

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