Ptolemy's map of Ireland
A map created by Greek astronomer and cartographer Claudius Ptolemy, from around 140 A.D., is considered to be the oldest surviving representation of Ireland.

An Irish Historical Tract Dated A.D. 721 and discovered by Eoin MacNeil, implies that 'the history of the Gael begins with the foundation of the Ulidian kingdom'. This kingdom had its capital at Emain Macha, the Navan Fort near Armagh

This same text, records the founding of Emain Macha at 307 B.C. which is suspiciously precise, but consistent with modern archaeology and the Dál Fiatach genealogies. The Figure-of-Eight structure, seen below, was built in the Fourth Century B.C. and with the Dál Fiatach's average generation of 34 years, the first king recorded would have thrived around 300 B.C.

Navan Fort, the Emain Macha of early Irish literary and historical tradition, lies two miles west of the city of Armagh. The importance of the site rests not only with its identification as the ancient seat of the kings of Ulster but also with its archaeological importance as one of the paramount ritual and tribal centers of Late Bronze Age and Iron Age Ireland along with the other provincial 'royal sites' of Tara, Dún Ailinne and Rathcroghan.

This area features in mythology such as the Táin Bó Cuailgne (Cattle Driving of Cooley) and other tales involving Cú Chulainn. In these tales the site is referred to as Eamhain Macha (Evan Ma ha).

It is believed to be indicated on Ptolemy’s Map (possibly based on 2nd century BC sources) as Isamnion which is an earlier form of Eamhain (from which it is derived by syncopation - with syllables being lost: I(s)AM(ni)ON becomes IAMON, or Eamhain).

Navan Fort is built on a small hill and is circular, with a diameter of 250 m. It is delimited by a wall and ditch with the ditch inside the wall indicating that it was not used for defence, but was a ceremonial structure.

Inside the fort, at the highest point of the hill, is the main structure, known as Site B, which contains several levels of structures. The earliest structure was built around 500 BC in the late Bronze Age.

After that, several figure-of-eight structures were built, each over the previous one, from around 400 BC to 100 BC.

Then in 94 BC, the final structure, called the 40 meter building was constructed in this fashion. See below for pictures.
The building was constructed.
It was filled with stones gathered from other locations - the Cairn.
The building and stones were burned.
The remains were coved over with sods brought from various locations to form the mound seen today.

At the same time as the 40 meter building was built, that is, 94 BC, several other structures were created. They are:

  • The outer wall of Navan Fort itself.
  • The Dorsey - a series of what are called Linear Earthworks, 15 miles south of Navan.
  • Other Linear Earthworks - called The Black Pig's Dyke, in other areas south and west of Navan.

We know the precise date because of dendrochronology, which dates oak trees very precisely.

Image at left is from "Ptolemy's map of Ireland: a modern decoding."

The site consists of a hengiform enclosure, some 250 m across, surrounding two surface monuments.
The site consists of a hengiform enclosure, some 250 m across, surrounding two surface monuments.

Figure-of eight structures under Site B at Navan and at Knockaulin, Kildare. Navan dates from the 4th to the 2nd centuries BC.

The figure-of-eight structures are unique in Europe and are found only in one other place. That is, Knockaulin in Kildare, which was Dún Ailinne, the home of the kings of Leinster.

Dún Ailinne and Tara are also the only places that 40 meter structures have been found.

At Navan Fort, Site A and the recently discovered Site C form another figure-of-eight which was built early in the first century AD.

The entrances to the figure-of eight structures at Knockaulin and the Sites A&C one at Navan, point to the entrances to the entire enclosure to the east.

Figure-of eight structures under Site B at Navan and at Knockaulin, Kildare.
Figure-of eight structures under Site B at Navan and at Knockaulin, Kildare.

The phases of construction

The site consists of a hengiform enclosure, some 250 m across, surrounding two surface monuments:
• Site A, a low ring-barrow
• Site B, an earthen mound some 50 m in diameter and 6 m high
• Site C, Geophysics indicated a 30 m diameter double circle (between Sites A and B).

Site B.
• Phase 1: An initial phase of Neolithic settlement.
• Phase 2: A period of abandonment followed by subsequent ploughing, probably during the Bronze Age.
• Phase 3(i): The erection of a circular ditched enclosure some 45 m in diameter which surrounded a series of about 28 substantial timber posts, believed to date to the Late Bronze Age. Available dates are 1600-1200 BC for the posts and 900-550 BC for the ditch.
• Phase 3(ii-iii): The erection of a series of periodically renewed figure-of-eight structures, consisting of a smaller circular building of about 10-13.5 m diameter and a larger enclosure on the order of 20-25 m diameter. These dated to the transition between the 'terminal' Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age, i.e., 4th-2nd centuries BC, and they yielded among other things the skull and mandible of a Barbary ape, an indication that Navan was probably part of a widespread system of prestige exchange. 3iii date 200-95 BC.
• Phase 4: A large circular structure, 40 m in diameter, consisting of 280 oak timbers with a central post dendro-dated to 95 BC.
• Phase 5: Which may have followed on almost immediately from phase 4, saw the infilling of the entire structure with limestone boulders to a height of 2.8 m, followed by the firing of the existing timber on the cairn, and then the encasement of the cairn in an earthen mound.

Site A.
• Phase A: A series of structures with concentric slot trenches (diameters 16.6 m, 18.8 m and 20.3 m), postholes survive in the inner slot. No evidence of entrance. Associated finds include coarse pottery, charcoal suggested a date of 4th century BC to 1st century AD.
• Phase B - Again structures with concentric slot trenches, with a 2 m wide gap. Entrance to the east, large central posthole - slots and posthole cut outer slot of Phase A structure but not the inner slots – part of the same building as the inner slots or a later feature?

Site C. This was subsequently investigated by Chris Lynn in 2001 and forms a figure-of-eight with site A.

Aerial view of the Emain Macha area.
Aerial view of the Emain Macha area.

Modern intensive research has indicated that a number of sites are present in the area including Haughey’s Fort, a Late Bronze Age hillfort. Other sites in the Navan complex include the King’s Stables, an artificial pool of similar date to Haughey’s Fort.

Haughey’s Fort is a trivallate hillfort consisting of three elliptical ramparts, one within another.