This stunning flint macehead was found deep within the darkest recesses of the great Neolithic passage tomb at Knowth, Co. Meath. Hidden for millennia, it was discovered in 1982 during an excavation carried out by Dr George Eogan. It is fashioned out a single piece of pale-grey flint, splashed with patches of brown, and is polished and decorated on all six sides.
The principle motifs employed are finely carved spirals and lozenges. On one side these symbols appear to form a human face, with the shaft hole defining a wide, gaping mouth. This object represents one of the finest artifacts from Neolithic Europe and it displays a high level of both technical and artistic sophistication.
Measuring 7.90 cm in length and weighing approximately 324 g[i], the macehead has as cylindrical perforation towards its narrower end, which would have held a wooden handle. An object of exceptional craftsmanship the mace-head was probably a prestigious symbol of religious or political authority[ii].
It was discovered by Mr Liam O’Connor, who found it sitting on the old ground surface between two large stone jams that defined the entrance into the northern recess of the tomb. It was sealed by a deposit of chipped shale that appeared to have been deliberately thrown down to hide the object[iii]. A short distance away, and at the same stratgraphic level, was a small cremation pit. It is possible that this burial was broadly contemporary with the deposition of the macehead[iv], although this is not definite.
Unsurprisingly, the artifact caused quite as stir when found, with the then Taoiseach, Mr Charles Haughey, visiting the excavation especially to see it. It is now housed in the National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin where it can be viewed by members of the public, free of charge.
[i] Eogan, G. & Richardson, H. 1982 ‘Two Maceheads from Knowth, Co. Meath’ in The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. 112, pp. 124
[ii] Waddel, J. 1998. The Prehistoric Archaeology of Ireland, Galway University Press, Galway, p. 74
[iii] Eogan, G. & Richardson, H. 1982 ‘Two Maceheads from Knowth, Co. Meath’ in The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. 112, p. 123
[iv] Eogan, G. & Richardson, H. 1982 ‘Two Maceheads from Knowth, Co. Meath’ in The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. 112, p. 123