Navan Fort in the Late Bronze Age

Late Bronze Age Ireland 1200 – 300 BC

The number of bronze and gold ornaments and the hundreds of bronze spears and swords discovered from the Late Bronze Age suggest that society had become aristocratic and warlike. Burial patterns changed to be replaced by some unknown ritual. The few burials that have been discovered consist of cremations placed in a mound surrounded by a ring ditch. The increase in the number of Late Bronze Age hoards discovered suggests that a person’s wealth was publicly offered rather than buried with them. The majority of hoards are found in wetland areas suggesting the ritual of depositing precious objects in bodies of water.

There is little evidence of settlement from this period apart from hillforts which suggest political instability and the development of larger societies.

 Navan Fort Complex in the Late Bronze Age

The evidence of Late Bronze Age occupation in Co.Armagh is limited to the Navan complex which includes settlement at Navan Fort and Haughey’s Fort, the King’s Stables ritual pool and the linear earthworks at Creeveroe.

Navan Fort in the Late Bronze Age: plan of the Navan fort Complex

Navan Fort in the Late Bronze Age: plan of the Navan fort Complex [copyright NIEA]

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Navan Fort in the Early Bronze Age

Early Bronze Age Ireland  2500 -1200BC

The main characteristics which distinguish the Neolithic period and the Early Bronze Age are seen in changes in pottery shape and use, refinement of flint heads for more effective hunting (ie barbed-and-tanged arrowhead) and the introduction of metal implements. There is little evidence of Early Bronze Age settlement in Ireland, but the few remains suggest that it consisted of small groups of rectangular and circular dwellings surrounded by timber palisades. These farmsteads would have been spread out in a patchwork of clearings surrounded by forest.

A change in burial patterns at this time suggests a shift in societal focus from the communal to the individual. The dead were either interred in a pit or stone cist or their cremated remains were deposited in an urn or other funeral pottery before internment. Grave goods included weapons, tools, ornaments and animal bones.

Early Bronze Age metalwork began with the production of simple copper and bronze axes and daggers and some gold ornaments. As the age progressed,  more elaborate axes, longer daggers, halberds and spears were produced. These metal weapons were the preserve of the higher ranking members of the society whereas the rest of the community used a bow and arrow for hunting or fighting.

Navan Fort in the Early Bronze Age

Navan Fort in the Early Bronze Age- plough marks in the soil

Navan Fort in the Early Bronze Age- plough marks in the soil [copyright NIEA]

The beginning of the Bronze Age witnesses another phase of woodland regeneration followed by more clearance. Navan Fort witnessed a substantial forest clearance around 1900BC suggesting the expansion of arable agriculture in the vicinity.  Pollen finds from Loughnashade indicate an increase in arable cultivation in the early part of the Bronze Age 1900-1000BC. This coincides with the criss cross grooves made by ploughing on the surface of the hilltop at site B.

An early, rather thick example of a dirk ( a long dagger) is supposed to have been found near ‘the great Navan Rath’.

Navan Fort in the Early Bronze Age- a dagger

Navan Fort in the Early Bronze Age- a dirk [copyright NIEA]

Navan Fort Overview

Navan Fort is situated on a drumlin outside Armagh City in a rich archaeological landscape that includes Haughey’s Fort, The King’s Stables and Loughnashade. Navan Fort is identified as Emain Macha, the legendary capital of Ulster, celebrated in the heroic tales of the Ulster Cycle and comparable to other royal sites in Ireland.  According to tradition, Knockaulin (Dún Ailinne) in Co. Kildare was the site of the inauguration of the Kings of Leinster, Tara in Co. Meath was associated with the Kings of Meath and Navan Fort was known as the seat of Kings of Ulster. The Navan Fort complex shows evidence of occupation dating back to the Neolithic period, but its the evidence from the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age that reinforces Navan Fort’s importance as a regional centre.

Aerial view of Navan Fort

Aerial view of Navan Fort [copyright NIEA]

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Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Age Artefacts

After going through the archaeological evidence from the Navan Fort complex I decided to  expand my research to look at artefacts found in other regions in Ireland from the periods of occupation at Navan. This information will help to build a clearer picture of the peoples who would have worked, occupied and revered Navan Fort.

The following images are from A History of Ireland in 100 objects which is a great resource for looking at artefacts from key periods in the history of Ireland.

Neolithic Period 4000 BC – 2500 BC

Evidence discovered while constructing the Navan Centre and during excavation of the  mound (site B) at Navan Fort points to Neolithic occupation of the area. Finds included shards of Neolithic pottery, a stone axe, flint flakes, a plano-convex knife and flint axe.

Image from History of Ireland in 100 objects: Ceremonial Axehead 3600BC

History of Ireland in 100 objects: Ceremonial Axehead 3600BC

This Jadeite axehead was found in Kincraigy, Co. Donegal. The stone comes from Mont Beigua, Italy  c. 4300 BC and was probably brought to Ireland by immigrant farmers from northern France. This rare axehead symbolised the power of  humans over nature and it was a high status item which gave prestige to its owner.








Image from A History of Ireland in 100 Objects: Annagh Drinking bowl

A History of Ireland in 100 Objects: Annagh Drinking bowl 3500BC

This pot was one of three vessels discovered in a small cave in Annagh, Co. Limerick. The pots were grave offerings found alongside three full human skeletons, two sets of partial remains, animal bones, a flint blade and arrowhead. These pots were probably used for drinking and demonstrate a form of domesticity. The animal bones were from domestic and wild species, showing that while hunting was still important for these people the farming of livestock was gradually becoming the norm.


A History of Ireland in 100 objects: Flint Mace Head 3300-2800BC

This intricately carved macehead was found in the great passage Tomb at Knowth in Co. Meath. All six surfaces of this piece of flint have been intricately carved with diamond shapes and swirling spirals and demonstrates the high levels of artistic and technical ability in Neolithic society.





Early Bronze Age  C. 2500-1200 BC

Shallow grooves discovered under the mound (site B) at Navan Fort indicate that the area was ploughed and cultivated prior to the construction of the wooden buildings. 

Image from A History of Ireland in 100 objects:  Pair of Gold Discs 2200 - 2000BC

A History of Ireland in 100 objects: Pair of Gold Discs 2200 – 2000BC

These gold discs were found in Tedavnet in Co. Monaghan and are decorated with crosses worked  with rows of dots, lines and zig-zag patterns. Golden discs were associated with reverence of the sun and these items may have been wore by a king who wished to associate himself with its life-giving power.

Late Bronze Age, 1200-300 BC

The remains of a Late Bronze Age ditched enclosure were uncovered under Site B at Navan Fort along with four small bronze objects chacteristic of this period: a socketed axe head, a tiny spear head a sickle blade and a mount from a scabbard.

The figure of eight structures discovered under the mound (Site B)  spanned the transistion from Late Bronze Age to Iron Age.

An image from A history of Ireland in 100 objects: Tara Torcs c1200BC

A history of Ireland in 100 objects: Tara Torcs c1200BC

These gold torcs were found close to the Rath of the Synods on the Hill of Tara in Co.Meath. They were made by hammering a gold bar into four thin flanges which were then twisted into a circle. These large torcs may have been worn by the kings of Tara. Whereas previous torcs were made from a small amount of gold hammered into a sheet that was shaped and decorated, these later torcs required a larger amount of gold and more sophisticated construction. The quality of these torcs denote the importance of Tara and its combined political, religious and spirital power.

Image from A History of Ireland in 100 objects: Glenasheen Gorget c 800-700Bc

A History of Ireland in 100 objects: Glenasheen Gorget c 800-700Bc

This beautiful gold collar was found in 1932 in the Burren, Co. Clare. It had been bent in two, probably to release its power, before it was buried. The gorget was made at the height of gold working in Europe and demonstrates the range of artistic and technical skills of craftsman at this period. These Irish collars are similar in structure and decoration to European bronze cuirasses (a highly decorated piece of armour that covers the torso) and represent the  European warrior cult.

An Image from A History of Ireland in 100 objects: Castlederg Cauldron 700- 600BC

A History of Ireland in 100 objects: Castlederg Cauldron 700- 600BC



This bronze caldron was found in a bog in Castlederg in Co. Tyrone. It was made from sheets of bronze shaped and held in place by rows of rivets. The skills required to craft this item and the repairs made to such cauldrons suggest they were highly prized and owned by  the most important members of society such as a king. The cauldron was most likely used as part of a ceremony reflecting  the use of bronze feasting equipment seen in Western and Central Europe at this time.

An image from A History of Ireland in 100 objects: Armlet Old-croghan man 362-175BC

A History of Ireland in 100 objects: Armlet Old-Croghan man 362-175BC

The body of the Old-Croghan Man was discovered in a bog at Croghan Hill, Co. Offaly in 2003. The leather and tinned bronze armlet with stamped metal clips representing the sun denotes the wearer was a person of high status. The man endured a violent death: hazel rods were threaded through holes in his upper arms, he was stabbed in the chest, struck in the neck,  decapitated and cut in half. This was a ritualistic ‘triple killing’, a sacrifice made to appease the three natures of the goddess of sovereignty, fertility and war/death. Old-Croghan man was young and healthy at the time of his death. He was found close to the inaugural site of the kings of Ui Failge and is thought to have been a king or aristocrat who was sacrificed by the people at a time when Ireland became colder and food more scarce.

Iron Age 200BC – AD 500

Further concentric slots provide evidence of multiple figure of eight wooden buildings at site B.

The remains of a large wooden structure was discovered under the mound, at site B. The building was filled with a stone cairn and had been set alight. The burnt remains and the cairn were covered in turves and soil to form the present day mound.

Excavations of the barrow at site A and a later excavation at Site C uncovered two sets of  three concentric slots which form the foundations of a large wooden  figure of eight structure. This 50 m long, Iron Age, structure is contemporary with the building of large wooden building at site B and can be dated to c. 100BC.

Image from A History of Ireland in 100 objects: Broighter Boat c100BC

A History of Ireland in 100 objects: Broighter Boat c 100BC

This gold boat is part of a hoard uncovered at Broighter, Co. Derry on the shores of Lough Foyle. It is thought the hoard was left as a votive offering to a sea god. The boat is only 20cm long but it is highly detailed and thought to be a model of an actual ocean-going vessel. The full-size boats would have been made of wood or hide and used to trade with Britain and Europe.

Navan Fort’s Archaeological Landscape

View Navan archaeological landscape in a larger map

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