We Have Never Been Material.© Andrew Cochrane 2007 - Page 3
Figure 3. Miniature axeheads, beads and portions of pins (O’Sullivan 2005).
Within such a conceptual framework, the stone balls discovered
(e.g. in Cairn L, Loughcrew, the Mound of the Hostages,
Fourknocks I and Newgrange Site 1) may
have been more than ‘children’s marbles’ (Herity 1974, 136), being understood instead
through habits of tactile appropriation in order to further interact with the ‘aura’
of the object (Benjamin 1977, 225, 242). Their form as durable, portable, possibly
miniature, three-dimensional objects creates choreographies of relation (Nakamura
2005, 32). The decorated pins, such as the chevron patterned antler pin from
Fourknocks I may have stimulated people in similar ways, and therefore have been
more than functional fasteners for ‘hair-buns’ on the back of the head or for ‘ceremonial
cloaks’ (Herity 1974, 134; Eogan 1986, 181).
Replica of the decorated flint macehead (7.9 cm in length; 324.5 gm weight) found at
the entrance to the right-hand recess of the eastern passage tomb, Knowth Site 1
(Photo by Ken Williams).
Associated with cremated human remains and discovered on the old ground surface at the
entrance to Cell 3 (the right-hand recess) of the eastern passage tomb, Knowth
Site 1, directly in front of the stone basin was discovered a highly decorated ovoid
macehead made of flint (7.9cm long) (Eogan 1986, 42-3, 146). The macehead is
decorated with spirals, lozenges and arcs. On each side of the macehead there
is a single spiral; on one face there is an arc that in-turns at its ends,
similar to the ‘horned arc’ or ‘pelta designs’ and around the hole for the
handle are sets of lines, one of which trails off to form a spiral on the side (see
photo above). The ends of the macehead have close fitting lozenge motifs that are
carved in relief. The macehead would originally have been mounted on a shaft.
The combination of the ‘horned arc’ image and the hole for the handle has been
interpreted as being ‘overtly anthropomorphic’ (O’Sullivan 1993a, 40).
Although occurrence of decorated maceheads is rare in Irish passage tombs, undecorated
ones have been discovered, such as in the western tomb, Knowth site 1. Stone
axeheads are also not found in all passage tombs, but do occur in some, such as
between the entrance stones of Sess Kilgreen, Co. Tyrone and in the fill and foundation
levels of the Mound of the Hostages (Coffey 1912, 108; O’Sullivan 2005, 158-9).
As these artefacts do not feature largely in passage tombs, one might argue
that the deposition or presence of stone axeheads and maceheads was deemed more
appropriate in bogs, shallow waters such as lakes or ponds and rivers at fording
points (Cooney 2000, 208). These objects may have been understood as being
animate with biographies and origin myths, gifts in their own right from the earth
or sky (i.e. ones that originated in mountain locations), within a cyclical character
of life and death (Whittle 1995, 255-6; Cooney 1992, 24; 2000a, 210; A. Watson
It is possible that the material objects placed in passage tombs were oblations, gifts
or exchanges that were set within practices of regeneration and fertility.
Previous interpretations of the broken Carrowkeel pots in passage tombs have
suggested that their destruction occurred as a result of intentional burial
‘rituals’ (e.g. Eogan 1986, 140). Fowler (2004, 73) has suggested that the
breaking of an object such as a pot or necklace is performed and then given as
an incomplete gift for the dead as reciprocation is not required, with parts of
the fragmented offering being kept with the living to provide further stimuli
for memories (Jones 2002, 169). The act of removing these objects from daily
life and the subsequent placement of them in passage tombs may have
incorporated acts of transformation that affected both present and the absent
persons (see also Fowler 2004, 135).
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