Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.
    inner kerb of Site K at Newgrange.
The inner kerb of Site K at Newgrange. The remains of Site L are just beyond, and the huge restored passage-grave of Newgrange is across the hedge.

Newgrange Satellite Sites K and L

Behold the two paps of the king's consort
Here beyond the mound west of the fairy mansion
The spot where Cermait the fair was born,
Behold it on the way, not a far step.

From a dindshenchas poem entitled
Brug na Boinne by Macnia mac Oengusa,
Book of Leinster, 1160.

The Boyne Valley has some forty neolithic monuments all clustered within the Bend of the River Boyne. Aside from the famous passage-grave, there are several other monuments on the ridge of Newgrange. There are three smaller satellite passage-graves, Sites K and L to the west and Site Z to the east of Newgrange, and there may well have been a fourth mound, Z1, also on the east side. These very interesting monuments were excavated by Michael O'Kelly, his wife Clare, Frances Lynch, Elizabeth Twohig, C. A. Erskine, F. McCormick, and Geraldine Roche in 1965 and 1966 during the wider excavations at Newgrange. The results were published in a paper titled - Three Passage-Graves at Newgrange, Co. Meath, in 1978.

Satellites at Newgrange.
Satellites at Newgrange; image from the O'Kelly survey.

About a hundred yards distant from this mount (Newgrange), are placed two other pyramids, but of a much smaller size, not above a fourth part as big, and like it, are both encompassed with a circle of stones, set at some distance each from another, round their bottoms; but these stones bear a sort of proportion to the dimensions of the mount they surround, and therefore are abundantly less than those encompassing the larger mount.

As yet we know not what may be the fashions or inward contrivance of these two smaller mounts, because their caves or passages leading to them have not been hitherto discovered; but such an attempt were easy, by reason of the smallness of the mounts, did any person's leisure or curiosity incline them after such antiquities.

Sir Thomas Molyneux, 1711.

Claire O'Kelly's plan of Site K.
Claire O'Kelly's plan of Site K.

Site K at Newgrange

Site K is probably the older of the two mounds and is an extremely interesting monument. It is about twenty meters in diameter and has thirty-four kerbstones, one bearing engravings. The chamber is undifferentiated, but has a small triangular 'annex' added to the right side, which was not accessible from the chamber.

The passage is nine meters long and opens towards the south. The passage and chamber were separated by a decorated sillstone with interesting carvings on both sides. Seven stones bearing decoration were found in total at Site K.

Site K during the 1966 excavations.
Site K during the 1966 excavations, showing the first phase of the monument before it was extended.

The monument seeems to have been built in two at least two phases; a smaller inner monument, which can be seen in the excavation photo above, is eight meters in diameter with a passage five meters long. This passage was later extended. An unusual feature, a ditch was dug around the original monument, some three meters out from the kerb.

Outside the kerb of the primary monument and at a distance of 1 to l.5 meters from it a ditch, penannular in plan, had been dug and the material, a yellow sandy pebbly soil from the top of the glacial drift, had been used in the building of the mound. The uncut causeway between the ends of the ditch lay opposite the entrance to the tomb. There was a slight lack of symmetry at the ditch ends, that on the west being 3.5 meters from the primary kerb while that on the east was approximately 3 meters. It will be appreciated therefore that as the ditch approached the causeway, its line swung outward from the kerb.

There is no doubt, however, that it is contemporary with the kerb since it was first cut from the old turf surface on which the boulders of the kerb had been laid. The ditch remained open long enough for its shoulders to have weathered down somewhat and to provide an accumulation of silt in its bottom. Because of waterlogging, the silt became a blue-grey gley. Furthermore, some of the turves of the primary mound slipped outward over the kerb and slid down over the shoulder of the ditch, as can be seen in the north-south profile at the north end.

The conformity of the ditch with the plan of the monument, as well as the other features outlined above, suggests that itwas dug by the primary passage grave builders, but whether or not its sole purpose was the obtaining of additional material for the mound is open to question.

Three Passage-Graves at Newgrange, Co. Meath, O'Kelly, O'Kelly, Lynch, Twohig, Erskine, McCormick, and Roche.

At some later stage the passage was extended and a new outer kerb was added bringing the diameter to twenty meters. A smaller inner ring of boulders was found between the chamber and the original kerb on the west side. Such inner rings are found at several other sites such as nearby Knowth, Townley Hall and Carrowmore, and may indicate that the monument had a freestanding phase.

Site K during the 1966 excavations.
Site K during the 1966 excavations, showing the first phase of the monument and the extended passageway.

Also during the excavation, a displaced capstone was discovered, which had been pushed down behind the chamber. A blocking stone was found in the entrance to the passage.

The only find from Site K came from the chamber: a small white marble, possibly made of hard chalk. It has been speculated that these marbles, which are often found at these sites, may represent a seed, or perhaps the soul of the individual who was cremated. Several were found in the chamber of Newgrange. They are usually burnt and cracked by the heat of the cremation pyre.

Plan of Site K and L.
Plan of Site K and L, sixty meters west of Newgrange, from the O'Kelly survey.

Site L at Newgrange

The mound of Site L was largely destroyed by the time it was excavated in 1966 and 1967. These lands were part of the 'Grange' of Mellifont Abbey, and during medieval times the land here was ploughed frequently. The mound was about twenty-three meters in diameter and had a large cruciform chamber which opened towards the south. The passage was eleven meters in length - which is a considerable size, being half the length of the passage within Newgrange - and like Site K is oriented towards the south.

Site l at Newgrange
A plan of Site L at Newgrange. with possible reconstructions, by Claire O'Kelly.

A great deal of damage was done to this mound by the construction of a lime kiln in the passageway. Finally, the ESB erected some poles on the site, digging three holes and causing yet more damage. The mound of Site L is unusual in that it is mainly composed of sand, mixed with turves. Clare O'kelly's sketches of the possible appearance of the monument in neolithic times is quite different and more natural than her husband's reconstructed facade at Newgrange closeby.

An interesting decorated stone from the kerb of Site L. After Claire O'Kelly.
An interesting decorated stone from the kerb of Site L. After Claire O'Kelly.

Six decorated stones were found at this site. A seventh carved stone, which was illustrated by Lhuyd's draftsman in 1699, has vanished. An illustration of this stone survives in the Stowe manuscript. There were a large amount of finds from this monument which included a large haul of unworked flint, broken pottery, human remains and a piece of a bone chisel.

The finds from the site as a whole fall into four groups: (1) those from the habitation layer underneath the passage-grave; (2) those which accompanied the burials in the tomb (this includes those found in material overlying the limekiln which must have been upcast from the tomb during disturbance) ; (3) those found in the area of the kerb; (4) those found in the turf mound which probably came from an occupation site at the source of the turves. The materials comprise stone, flint, bone and pottery but the number of diagnostic objects in each is small.

Some interesting finds from Site L.
Some interesting finds from Site L. At the bottom is a bone chisel which may have been used for carving neolithic art.

Over 1,200 pieces of flint came from the whole site, but of these only about fifty are worked. The flint pieces themselves are small and scrappy because they have been struck from small nodules collected out of the local glacial drift and in several cases the nodules were of poor quality to begin with. The number of objects in stone other than flint is very small and does not include a single axe or axe fragment. The main bulk of the pottery comes from the pre-passage-grave or period I activity, though there are some sherds from other parts of the site also. The bone objects, mainly fragments of pins, came from the burial deposit which had been much disturbed. The pin fragments are burnt and somust have been in the clothing of the bodies at the time of cremation.

Three Passage-Graves at Newgrange, Co. Meath, O'Kelly, O'Kelly, Lynch, Twohig, Erskine, McCormick, and Roche.

Plan Site L. After Claire O'Kelly.
Excavation plan of Site L.

The excavation report contains a more detailed description of the bone chisel:

A bone chisel was found at a low level in the filling of the west side chamber but not actually among the cremated bones. It is unburnt. It is made from a section of long bone cut out by means of a groove-and-splinter technique. The two longitudinal grooves show clearly the parallel striae made by the flint point or burin used to cut out the piece.

Striae again show that the chisel edge has been formed by a grinding process; the bevel on the inner concave surface was achieved by a side-to-side rubbing of the bone on a stone surface; the bevel on the outer convex surface was achieved by rubbing the bone in various directions, the final rubbing having had a side-to-side motion. The striae are still clear despite the subsequent all-over polishing of the tool. The chisel edge is quite sharp though there isa little gapping near one end of the "cutting edge". Maximum length 9-5 centimeters; width of cutting edge 2.l centimeters.

Three Passage-Graves at Newgrange, Co. Meath, O'Kelly, O'Kelly, Lynch, Twohig, Erskine, McCormick, and Roche.

These sites are on private land beside the Newgrange compound.

Looking north into the passage of Site K
Looking north into the passage of Site K, in the field to the west of Newgrange. The passage extension outside the original kerb can be clearly seen, as can the blocking stone. The mounds of Knowth are visible one kilometer to the west