Newgrange is one of the passage tombs of the Brú na Bóinne
complex in County Meath, one of the most famous prehistoric sites
in the world and the most famous of all Irish prehistoric sites.
Newgrange was built in such a way that at dawn on the shortest
day of the year, the winter solstice, a narrow beam of sunlight
for a very short time illuminates the floor of the chamber at
the end of the long passageway.
Originally built between c.3300-2900 BC according to Carbon-14
dates (Grogan 1991), it is more than 500 years older than the
Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, and predates Stonehenge trilithons
by about 1,000 years (although the earliest stages of Stonehenge
are roughly contemporary with Newgrange).
In the Neolithic period, Newgrange continued as a focus of ceremonial
activity. New monuments added to the site included a timber circle
to the south-east of the main mound and a smaller timber circle
to the west. The eastern timber circle consisted of five concentric
rows of pits. The outer row contained wooden posts. The next row
of pits had clay linings and was used to burn animal remains.
The three inner rows of pits were dug to accept the animal remains.
Within the circle were post and stake holes associated with Beaker
pottery and flint flakes. The western timber circle consisted
of two concentric rows of parallel postholes and pits defining
a circle 20 m in diameter.
A concentric mound of clay was constructed around the southern
and western sides of the mound and covered a structure consisting
of two parallel lines of post and ditches that had been partly
burnt. A free-standing circle of large stones was constructed
encircling the mound. Near the entrance, 17 hearths were used
to set fires. These structures at Newgrange are generally contemporary
with a number of Henges known from the Boyne Valley, at Newgrange
Site A, Newgrange Site O, Dowth Henge and Monknewtown Henge.
Spiral and lozenge motifs engraved on the magnificent entrance
slab, "one of the most famous stones in the entire repertory
of megalithic art", include a triple spiral motif, found
only at Newgrange and repeated along the passage and again inside
the chamber, which is reminiscent of the triskelion motif of the
Isle of Man, of ancient Sicily and of several passage tombs on
the island of Anglesey in North Wales. There are further examples
of megalithic art on many other kerbstones at Newgrange (notably
Kerbstone 52 and 67). However, the majority of the megalithic
art in the Brú na Bóinne complex is located at Newgrange's
sister tomb, Knowth.
Newgrange lay hidden for over 4,000 years due to mound slippage,
until the late 17th century, when men looking for building stone
uncovered it, and described it as a cave. Newgrange was excavated
and much restored between 1962 and 1975, under the supervision of
Prof. Michael J O'Kelly, Dep't. of Archaeology, University College,
Cork (O'Kelly 1986). It consists of a vast man-made stone and turf
mound retained within a circle of 97 large kerbstones topped by
a high inward-leaning wall of white quartz and granite. Most of
the stones were sourced locally (within a radius of 20km or so)
but the quartz and granite stones of the facade must have been sourced
further afield, most probably in Wicklow and Dundalk bay respectively.
As part of the restoration process the white quartzite stones and
cobbles were fixed into a near vertical steel reinforced concrete
wall surrounding the entrance of the mound. This restoration is
controversial among the archaeological community. Critics of the
wall point out that the technology did not exist when the mound
was created to fix a retaining wall at this angle. Another theory
is that the white quartzite stones formed a plaza on the ground
at the entrance. This theory won out at nearby Knowth, where the
restorers have laid the quartz stones out as an "apron"
in front of the entrance to the great mound.
Once a year, at the time of the winter solstice, the sun shines
directly along the long passage into the chamber for about 17 minutes
as it rises and illuminates the chamber floor for a very short time.
The alignment with the sun is too precise to have occurred by chance.
Professor MJ O'Kelly was the first person in modern times to observe
this event on December 21, 1967.
The sun however, does not enter the passage at Newgrange through
the main entrance, but rather through a specially contrived opening,
known as a roofbox, which is directly above the entrance. Although
solar alignments are not uncommon among passage graves, Newgrange
is the only one known to contain the additional roofbox feature.
The solar alignment at Newgrange is also still very precise compared
to similar phenomena at other passage graves such as Dowth or Maes
Howe in the Orkney islands, off the coast of Scotland.
Access to Newgrange
Access to Newgrange is by guided tour only. Tours begin at the Brú
na Bóinne Visitor Centre in Donore, Co. Meath, from which
visitors are bussed to the site in groups. To experience the phenomenon
on the morning of the Winter Solstice from inside Newgrange, one
must enter a random drawing at the interpretive center. Roughly
100 people are chosen each year. They are split into groups of five
and taken in on the five days around the Solstice in which light
does (weather permitting) enter the chamber. In 2006, 27,000 people
entered the lottery.
Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre is the first point of
call for those wishing to take a tour of the megalthic passage tombs
of Newgrange and Knowth and view Dowth as tickets are required to
gain entry. The centre itself contains extensive Interpretive displays
and viewing areas. An audio visual presentation can be viewed in
English, Irish. German, Italian or Spanish.
Critical Information for drivers...
The last tour of monuments is 1 hour 45mins before closing time
of the centre and all groups of 15 or more must be pre-booked.Brú
na Bóinne is a very busy site and visitors may experience
delay during the Summer months. Individuals are advised to arrive
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