Navan Fort in the Iron Age

Iron Age Ireland 200BC – AD 500

The Iron Age is defined in Ireland by the introduction of the La Téne design of metalwork, a style that is closely associated with the Celts. The finds from this period such as ornaments, horse tack and weaponry are associated with aristocratic members of society. There is little evidence of Iron Age settlement in Ireland apart from at the ‘royal’ sites of Tara, Co. Meath, Dún Ailinne on the hill of Knockaulin, Co. Kildare and Navan Fort. Again there is little burial evidence from this period, suggesting cremation was the most common method and the few grave goods found consisted of personal possessions such as pottery or weapons.

Navan Fort in the Iron Age 200 BC

Plan of Navan Fort showing Site A and Site B

Plan of Navan Fort showing Site A and Site B

Around Navan Fort, there was a resurgence of woodland c. 200 BC suggesting the collapse of agriculture, abandonment or population decline. The forest regeneration coincides with a rise in lake levels suggesting an increase in rainfall. These climatic changes coincide with an upsurge in ceremonial activity including the building of the mound at site B on Navan Fort and the deposition of the trumpets in Loughnashade. By the first or second centuries AD this decline was reversed and arable agriculture was again on the rise.

Navan Fort Site A & Site C in the Iron Age

Navan Fort site A Ring Barrow

Navan Fort site A Ring Barrow

The centre of the ring work lies 30m South-East of the centre of the enclosure. A wide hollow ring marks the line of a filled in ditch 30m in diameter and 2m deep, with traces of an external bank to the North and West. When complete the whole monument would have been 50m in diameter. The small internal area and lack of entrance and external bank suggest it was used as a ceremonial monument. A number of finds were discovered in the filled-in ditch including an Early Christian bronze brooch but radiocarbon dating of animal bones found at a lower level point to a much earlier date of occupation. Continue reading

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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Navan Fort photographs

IPhone displaying map at Navan Fort

Testing the GPS on the iPhone at Navan Fort

I spent the second half of the brainstorming day testing the accessibility and GPS / 3G signals of the proposed routes  for the Navan Fort Heritage apps. I was delighted to discover that the GPS and 3G worked well across the Navan Fort site. I’ve mapped and photographed a possible journey around the site. This will enable us to better design the route of both heritage apps.

View Navan Fort Photographs in a larger map

I found that my research into history of Navan Fort helped me to recognise and understand the landscape better which made for a more rewarding visit. That sense of enjoyment which stems from a recognition and understanding of our surroundings is a key aim for the both Navan Fort apps.

Navan Fort’s Archaeological Landscape

View Navan archaeological landscape in a larger map

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