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Newgrange

Newgrange

Overview
Newgrange is a prehistoric
Prehistory
Prehistory is the span of time before recorded history. Prehistory can refer to the period of human existence before the availability of those written records with which recorded history begins. More broadly, it refers to all the time preceding human existence and the invention of writing...

 monument
Monument
A monument is a type of structure either explicitly created to commemorate a person or important event or which has become important to a social group as a part of their remembrance of historic times or cultural heritage, or simply as an example of historic architecture...

  located in County Meath
County Meath
County Meath is a county in Ireland. It is part of the Mid-East Region and is also located in the province of Leinster. It is named after the ancient Kingdom of Mide . Meath County Council is the local authority for the county...

, on the eastern side of Ireland
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

, about one kilometre north of the River Boyne
River Boyne
The River Boyne is a river in Leinster, Ireland, the course of which is about long. It rises at Trinity Well, Newbury Hall, near Carbury, County Kildare, and flows towards the Northeast through County Meath to reach the Irish Sea between Mornington, County Meath and Baltray, County Louth. Salmon...

. It was built around 3200 BC , during the Neolithic
Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

 period. There is no agreement about what the site was used for, but it has been speculated that it had some form of religious significance
Religion
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

 because it is aligned with the rising sun on the winter solstice
Winter solstice
Winter solstice may refer to:* Winter solstice, astronomical event* Winter Solstice , former band* Winter Solstice: North , seasonal songs* Winter Solstice , 2005 American film...

, which floods the stone room with light. Newgrange is also older than Stonehenge and the great pyramids of Giza It is in fact just one monument within the Neolithic Brú na Bóinne
Brú na Bóinne
is a World Heritage Site in County Meath, Ireland and is the largest and one of the most important prehistoric megalithic sites in Europe.-The site:...

 complex, alongside the similar passage tomb mounds of Knowth
Knowth
Knowth is a Neolithic passage grave and an ancient monument of Brú na Bóinne in the valley of the River Boyne in Ireland.Knowth is the largest of all passage graves situated within the Brú na Bóinne complex. The site consists of one large mound and 17 smaller satellite tombs...

 and Dowth
Dowth
Dowth is a Neolithic passage tomb which stands in the Boyne Valley, County Meath, Ireland. It is found at .Dating from about 2,5002000 BCE, is the second oldest behind Newgrange of the three principal tombs of the Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site a complex of passage-tombs...

, and as such is a part of the Brú na Bóinne UNESCO
UNESCO
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations...

 World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site
A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place that is listed by the UNESCO as of special cultural or physical significance...

.
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Encyclopedia
Newgrange is a prehistoric
Prehistory
Prehistory is the span of time before recorded history. Prehistory can refer to the period of human existence before the availability of those written records with which recorded history begins. More broadly, it refers to all the time preceding human existence and the invention of writing...

 monument
Monument
A monument is a type of structure either explicitly created to commemorate a person or important event or which has become important to a social group as a part of their remembrance of historic times or cultural heritage, or simply as an example of historic architecture...

  located in County Meath
County Meath
County Meath is a county in Ireland. It is part of the Mid-East Region and is also located in the province of Leinster. It is named after the ancient Kingdom of Mide . Meath County Council is the local authority for the county...

, on the eastern side of Ireland
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

, about one kilometre north of the River Boyne
River Boyne
The River Boyne is a river in Leinster, Ireland, the course of which is about long. It rises at Trinity Well, Newbury Hall, near Carbury, County Kildare, and flows towards the Northeast through County Meath to reach the Irish Sea between Mornington, County Meath and Baltray, County Louth. Salmon...

. It was built around 3200 BC , during the Neolithic
Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

 period. There is no agreement about what the site was used for, but it has been speculated that it had some form of religious significance
Religion
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

 because it is aligned with the rising sun on the winter solstice
Winter solstice
Winter solstice may refer to:* Winter solstice, astronomical event* Winter Solstice , former band* Winter Solstice: North , seasonal songs* Winter Solstice , 2005 American film...

, which floods the stone room with light. Newgrange is also older than Stonehenge and the great pyramids of Giza It is in fact just one monument within the Neolithic Brú na Bóinne
Brú na Bóinne
is a World Heritage Site in County Meath, Ireland and is the largest and one of the most important prehistoric megalithic sites in Europe.-The site:...

 complex, alongside the similar passage tomb mounds of Knowth
Knowth
Knowth is a Neolithic passage grave and an ancient monument of Brú na Bóinne in the valley of the River Boyne in Ireland.Knowth is the largest of all passage graves situated within the Brú na Bóinne complex. The site consists of one large mound and 17 smaller satellite tombs...

 and Dowth
Dowth
Dowth is a Neolithic passage tomb which stands in the Boyne Valley, County Meath, Ireland. It is found at .Dating from about 2,5002000 BCE, is the second oldest behind Newgrange of the three principal tombs of the Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site a complex of passage-tombs...

, and as such is a part of the Brú na Bóinne UNESCO
UNESCO
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations...

 World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site
A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place that is listed by the UNESCO as of special cultural or physical significance...

. Newgrange also shares many similarities with other Neolithic constructions around Western Europe, such as Maeshowe
Maeshowe
Maeshowe is a Neolithic chambered cairn and passage grave situated on Mainland, Orkney, Scotland. The monuments around Maeshowe, including Skara Brae, were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. It gives its name to the Maeshowe type of chambered cairn, which is limited to Orkney...

 tomb in Orkney, Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 and the Bryn Celli Ddu
Bryn Celli Ddu
Bryn Celli Ddu is a prehistoric site on the Welsh island of Anglesey located near Llanddaniel Fab. Its name means 'the mound in the dark grove'. It was plundered in 1699 and archaeologically excavated between 1928 and 1929....

 site in Wales
Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

.

After its initial use, the entrance to Newgrange was sealed and it remained closed for several millennia, subsequently gaining several associations in local folklore
Folklore
Folklore consists of legends, music, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales and customs that are the traditions of a culture, subculture, or group. It is also the set of practices through which those expressive genres are shared. The study of folklore is sometimes called...

 and mythology
Mythology
The term mythology can refer either to the study of myths, or to a body or collection of myths. As examples, comparative mythology is the study of connections between myths from different cultures, whereas Greek mythology is the body of myths from ancient Greece...

. It first began to be studied as a prehistoric monument by antiquarians in the seventeenth century AD, and over subsequent centuries various archaeological
Archaeology
Archaeology, or archeology , is the study of human society, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that they have left behind, which includes artifacts, architecture, biofacts and cultural landscapes...

 excavations took place at the site before it was largely restored to an interpretation of its original Neolithic appearance by conservators in the 1970s. Today, Newgrange is a popular tourist site, and according to the archaeologist Colin Renfrew, is "unhesitatingly regarded by the prehistorian as the great national monument of Ireland" and is also widely recognised as one of the most important megalithic structures in Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

.

The mound and passage tomb



The Newgrange monument primarily comprises a large mound, built of alternating layers of earth and stones, with grass growing on top and a reconstructed facade of flattish white quartz
Quartz
Quartz is the second-most-abundant mineral in the Earth's continental crust, after feldspar. It is made up of a continuous framework of SiO4 silicon–oxygen tetrahedra, with each oxygen being shared between two tetrahedra, giving an overall formula SiO2. There are many different varieties of quartz,...

 stones studded at intervals with large rounded cobbles covering part of the circumference. The mound is 76 m (250 ft) across and 12 m (40 ft) high, and covers 0.4 hectares (one acre) of ground. Within the mound is a chambered passage, which can be accessed by an entrance on the south-eastern side of the monument. The passage stretches for 18.95 metres (60 ft), or about a third of the way through into the centre of the structure. At the end of the passage are three small chambers off a larger central chamber, with a high corbelled vault roof. Each of the smaller chambers has a large flat "basin stone", which was where the bones of the dead were possibly originally deposited, although whether it was actually a burial site remains unclear. The walls of this passage are made up of large stone slabs, twenty-two of which are on the west side and twenty-one on the east, which average out at 1.5 metres in height; several are decorated with carvings (as well as graffiti from the period after the rediscovery). The ceiling shows no evidence of smoke.

Situated around the perimeter of the mound are located a circle of standing stones, which most archaeologists regard as having been later, during the Bronze Age
Bronze Age
The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age...

, centuries after the original monument had been abandoned as a tomb.

Art



Newgrange contains various examples of abstract
Abstract art
Abstract art uses a visual language of form, color and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world. Western art had been, from the Renaissance up to the middle of the 19th century, underpinned by the logic of perspective and an...

 Neolithic rock art carved onto it which provide decoration. These carvings fit into ten categories, five of which are curvilinear (circles, spirals, arcs, serpentiniforms and dot-in-circles) and the other five of which are rectilinear (chevrons, lozenges, radials, parallel lines and offsets). They are also marked by wide differences in style, the skill-level that would have been needed to produce them, and on how deeply carved they are. One of the most notable examples of art at Newgrange is the triskele
Triskelion
A triskelion or triskele is a motif consisting of three interlocked spirals, or three bent human legs, or any similar symbol with three protrusions and a threefold rotational symmetry. Both words are from Greek or , "three-legged", from prefix "τρι-" , "three times" + "σκέλος" , "leg"...

-like features found on the entrance stone. It is approximately 10 ft. long and 4 ft. high, and about 5 tons in weight. It has been described as "one of the most famous stones in the entire repertory of megalithic art
Megalithic art
Megalithic art refers to the use of large stones as an artistic medium. Although some modern artists and sculptors make use of large stones in their work, the term is more generally used to describe art carved onto megaliths in prehistoric Europe....

." Archaeologists believe that most of the carvings were produced prior to the stones being erected in place, although the entrance stone was instead carved in situ before the kerbstones were placed alongside it.

Various archaeologists have speculated as to the meaning of the decoration, with some, such as George Coffey
George Coffey
George Coffey was a scholar of Irish history and cultural revivalist.Coffey was a bookbinder, archaeologist, and the first keeper of antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland...

 (who produced a study of art at "New Grange" in the 1890s), believing them to be purely decorative, whilst others, like M.J. O’Kelly
Michael J. O'Kelly
Professor Michael J. O'Kelly was an Irish archaeologist who excavated and restored Newgrange, a Late Stone Age passage tomb in the Boyne Valley, County Meath, Ireland, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. P. R...

 (who led the 1962–1975 excavation at the site), believing them to have some sort of symbolic
Symbolism
Symbolism is the applied use of symbols. It is a representation that carries a particular meaning. It is a device in literature where an object represents an idea.A symbol is an object, action, or idea that represents something other than itself....

 purpose, because some of the carvings had been in places that would not have been visible, such as at the bottom of the orthostatic slabs, below ground level. The most extensive research on how the art relates to alignments and astronomy in the Boyne Valley complex was carried out by American-Irish researcher Martin Brennan (author of The Stars and the Stones: Ancient Art and Astronomy in Ireland - Thames and Hudson 1983).

History


The Neolithic people who built the monument were native agriculturalists, growing crops and raising animals such as cattle in the area, where their settlements were located; they had not yet developed metal
Metal
A metal , is an element, compound, or alloy that is a good conductor of both electricity and heat. Metals are usually malleable and shiny, that is they reflect most of incident light...

, so all their tools would have been made out of stone, wood, antler or bone.

Construction and burials


The complex of Newgrange was originally built between c. 3100 and 2900 BC, meaning that it is approximately 5,000 years old. According to carbon-14 dates, it is more than five hundred years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza
Great Pyramid of Giza
The Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids in the Giza Necropolis bordering what is now El Giza, Egypt. It is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one to remain largely intact...

 in Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

, and predates Stonehenge
Stonehenge
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in the English county of Wiltshire, about west of Amesbury and north of Salisbury. One of the most famous sites in the world, Stonehenge is composed of a circular setting of large standing stones set within earthworks...

 by about a thousand years, as well as predating the Mycenaean culture of ancient Greece
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

. Geological analysis indicates that much of building materials used to construct Newgrange were littoral
Littoral
The littoral zone is that part of a sea, lake or river that is close to the shore. In coastal environments the littoral zone extends from the high water mark, which is rarely inundated, to shoreline areas that are permanently submerged. It always includes this intertidal zone and is often used to...

 blocks collected from the rocky beach at Clougher Head, approx. 20 km
KM
KM, Km, or km may stand for:*Kilometre *Kernel methods*Kettle Moraine High School*Khmer language *Kuomintang , a centre-right political party in the Republic of China on Taiwan...

 to the north-east. The blocks were possibly transported, to the Newgrange site by sea and up the River Boyne, by securing them to the underside of boats at low tide (see diagram in Benozzo (2010)); four slabs of brown carboniferous sandstone
Sandstone
Sandstone is a sedimentary rock composed mainly of sand-sized minerals or rock grains.Most sandstone is composed of quartz and/or feldspar because these are the most common minerals in the Earth's crust. Like sand, sandstone may be any colour, but the most common colours are tan, brown, yellow,...

 are from further afield, the rest of the 547 slabs used in the construction of the monument are greywacke
Greywacke
Greywacke or Graywacke is a variety of sandstone generally characterized by its hardness, dark color, and poorly sorted angular grains of quartz, feldspar, and small rock fragments or lithic fragments set in a compact, clay-fine matrix. It is a texturally immature sedimentary rock generally found...

 of the Clougher Head formation, a feldspar rich sedimentary rock.

None of the structural slabs were quarried, for they show signs of having been naturally weathered, but they must have been collected and then transported somehow largely uphill to the Newgrange site. Meanwhile, the stones used for the cairn, which together would have weighed around 200,000 tonnes, were likely taken from the river terraces between Newgrange and the Boyne, and there is indeed a large pond in this area which it has been speculated was the site quarried out by Newgrange’s builders to use for material for the cairn. Professor Frank Mitchell suggested that the monument could have been built within a space of five years, basing his estimation upon the likely number of local inhabitants during the Neolithic and the amount of time they would have devoted to building it rather than farming. This estimate was however criticised by M.J. O’Kelly and his archaeological team, who believed that it would have taken thirty years to build at the very least.

Excavations have revealed deposits of both burnt and unburnt human bone in the passage, indicating human corpses were indeed placed within it, some of which had been cremated
Cremation
Cremation is the process of reducing bodies to basic chemical compounds such as gasses and bone fragments. This is accomplished through high-temperature burning, vaporization and oxidation....

. From examining the unburnt bone, it was shown to come from at least two separate individuals, but much of their skeletons were missing, and what was left had been scattered about the passage. Various grave goods
Grave goods
Grave goods, in archaeology and anthropology, are the items buried along with the body.They are usually personal possessions, supplies to smooth the deceased's journey into the afterlife or offerings to the gods. Grave goods are a type of votive deposit...

 were deposited alongside the bodies inside the passage. Excavations that took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s revealed seven 'marbles', four pendants, two beads, a used flint flake, a bone chisel and fragments of bone pins and points. Many more artefacts had been found in the passage in previous centuries by visiting antiquarians and tourists, although most of these had been removed and gone missing or been placed in private collections. Nonetheless, sometimes these were recorded, and it is believed that the grave goods that came from Newgrange were typical of Neolithic Irish passage grave assemblages. The remains of non-human animals have also been found in the tomb, primarily those of mountain hare
Mountain Hare
The Mountain Hare , also known as Blue Hare, Tundra Hare, Variable Hare, White Hare, Alpine Hare and Irish Hare, is a hare, which is largely adapted to polar and mountainous habitats. It is distributed from Fennoscandia to eastern Siberia; in addition there are isolated populations in the Alps,...

s, rabbit
Rabbit
Rabbits are small mammals in the family Leporidae of the order Lagomorpha, found in several parts of the world...

s and dog
Dog
The domestic dog is a domesticated form of the gray wolf, a member of the Canidae family of the order Carnivora. The term is used for both feral and pet varieties. The dog may have been the first animal to be domesticated, and has been the most widely kept working, hunting, and companion animal in...

s, but also bat
Bat
Bats are mammals of the order Chiroptera "hand" and pteron "wing") whose forelimbs form webbed wings, making them the only mammals naturally capable of true and sustained flight. By contrast, other mammals said to fly, such as flying squirrels, gliding possums, and colugos, glide rather than fly,...

s, sheep or goat
Goat
The domestic goat is a subspecies of goat domesticated from the wild goat of southwest Asia and Eastern Europe. The goat is a member of the Bovidae family and is closely related to the sheep as both are in the goat-antelope subfamily Caprinae. There are over three hundred distinct breeds of...

, cattle
Cattle
Cattle are the most common type of large domesticated ungulates. They are a prominent modern member of the subfamily Bovinae, are the most widespread species of the genus Bos, and are most commonly classified collectively as Bos primigenius...

, song thrush
Song Thrush
The Song Thrush is a thrush that breeds across much of Eurasia. It is also known in English dialects as throstle or mavis. It has brown upperparts and black-spotted cream or buff underparts and has three recognised subspecies...

, and more rarely, mollusc and frog
Frog
Frogs are amphibians in the order Anura , formerly referred to as Salientia . Most frogs are characterized by a short body, webbed digits , protruding eyes and the absence of a tail...

. Most of these animals would only have entered and died in the chamber many centuries or even millennia after it was constructed: for instance, rabbits were only introduced to Ireland in the 13th century AD.

During much of the Neolithic
Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

 period, Newgrange continued as a focus of some ceremonial activity. New monuments added to the site included a timber circle
Timber circle
In archaeology, timber circles are circular arrangements of wooden posts interpreted as being either complexes of freestanding totem poles or as the supports for large circular buildings-British Isles:...

 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
Beaker culture
The Bell-Beaker culture , ca. 2400 – 1800 BC, is the term for a widely scattered cultural phenomenon of prehistoric western Europe starting in the late Neolithic or Chalcolithic running into the early Bronze Age...

 pottery and flint
Flint
Flint is a hard, sedimentary cryptocrystalline form of the mineral quartz, categorized as a variety of chert. It occurs chiefly as nodules and masses in sedimentary rocks, such as chalks and limestones. Inside the nodule, flint is usually dark grey, black, green, white, or brown in colour, and...

 flakes. The western timber circle consisted of two concentric rows of parallel posthole
Posthole
In archaeology a posthole is a cut feature used to hold a surface timber or stone. They are usually much deeper than they are wide although truncation may not make this apparent....

s and pits defining a circle 20 m in diameter. A concentric mound of clay
Clay
Clay is a general term including many combinations of one or more clay minerals with traces of metal oxides and organic matter. Geologic clay deposits are mostly composed of phyllosilicate minerals containing variable amounts of water trapped in the mineral structure.- Formation :Clay minerals...

 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 hearth
Hearth
In common historic and modern usage, a hearth is a brick- or stone-lined fireplace or oven often used for cooking and/or heating. For centuries, the hearth was considered an integral part of a home, often its central or most important feature...

s were used to set fires. These structures at Newgrange are generally contemporary with a number of henge
Henge
There are three related types of Neolithic earthwork which are all sometimes loosely called henges. The essential characteristic of all three types is that they feature a ring bank and ditch but with the ditch inside the bank rather than outside...

s known from the Boyne Valley, at Newgrange Site A, Newgrange Site O, Dowth
Dowth
Dowth is a Neolithic passage tomb which stands in the Boyne Valley, County Meath, Ireland. It is found at .Dating from about 2,5002000 BCE, is the second oldest behind Newgrange of the three principal tombs of the Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site a complex of passage-tombs...

 Henge and Monknewtown Henge.

The site evidently continued to have some ritual significance into the Iron Age
Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...

; among various later objects deposited around the mound are two pendants made from gold Roman coins of 320–337 AD (now in the National Museum of Ireland
National Museum of Ireland
The National Museum of Ireland is the national museum in Ireland. It has three branches in Dublin and one in County Mayo, with a strong emphasis on Irish art, culture and natural history.-Archaeology:...

).

Purpose


There have been various debates as to what its original purpose actually was. Many archaeologists have believed that the monument had religious significance of some sort of another, either as a place of worship for a "cult of the dead" or for an astronomically-based faith. The archaeologist Michael J. O’Kelly, who led the 1962–1975 excavations at the site, believed that the monument had to be seen in relation to the nearby Knowth
Knowth
Knowth is a Neolithic passage grave and an ancient monument of Brú na Bóinne in the valley of the River Boyne in Ireland.Knowth is the largest of all passage graves situated within the Brú na Bóinne complex. The site consists of one large mound and 17 smaller satellite tombs...

 and Dowth
Dowth
Dowth is a Neolithic passage tomb which stands in the Boyne Valley, County Meath, Ireland. It is found at .Dating from about 2,5002000 BCE, is the second oldest behind Newgrange of the three principal tombs of the Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site a complex of passage-tombs...

, and that the building of Newgrange "cannot be regarded as other than the expression of some kind of powerful force or motivation, brought to the extremes of aggrandizement in these three monuments, the cathedrals of the megalithic religion." O’Kelly believed that Newgrange, alongside the hundreds of other passage tombs built in Ireland during the Neolithic, showed evidence for a religion which venerated the dead as one of its core principles. He believed that this "cult of the dead" was just one particular form of European Neolithic religion, and that other megalithic monuments displayed evidence for different religious beliefs which were solar, rather than death-orientated.

However studies in other fields of expertise offer alternative interpretations of the possible functions, which principally centre on the astronomy, engineering, geometry and mythology associated with the Boyne monuments. It is speculated that the sun formed an important part of the religious beliefs of the neolithic
Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

 ("New" Stone Age) people who built it. One idea was that the room was designed for a ritualistic capturing of the sun on the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice, as the room gets flooded with sunlight, which might have helped the days start to get longer again. This view is strengthened by the discovery of alignments in Knowth
Knowth
Knowth is a Neolithic passage grave and an ancient monument of Brú na Bóinne in the valley of the River Boyne in Ireland.Knowth is the largest of all passage graves situated within the Brú na Bóinne complex. The site consists of one large mound and 17 smaller satellite tombs...

, Dowth
Dowth
Dowth is a Neolithic passage tomb which stands in the Boyne Valley, County Meath, Ireland. It is found at .Dating from about 2,5002000 BCE, is the second oldest behind Newgrange of the three principal tombs of the Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site a complex of passage-tombs...

 and the Lough Crew Cairns leading to the interpretation of these monuments as calendrical or astronomical devices. Formerly the Newgrange mound was encircled by an outer ring of immense standing stones, of which there are twelve of a possible thirty-seven remaining. However, evidence from Carbon Dating suggests that the stone circle which encircled Newgrange may not be contemporary with the monument itself but was placed there some 1,000 years later in the Bronze Age
Bronze Age
The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age...

. This view is disputed and relates to a Carbon date from a standing stone setting which intersects with a later timber post circle, the theory being that the stone in question could have been moved and re-set in its original position at a later date. This does however show a continuity of use of Newgrange of over a thousand years, with partial remains found from only five individuals the tomb theory is called into question.

Once a year, at the winter solstice
Winter solstice
Winter solstice may refer to:* Winter solstice, astronomical event* Winter Solstice , former band* Winter Solstice: North , seasonal songs* Winter Solstice , 2005 American film...

, the rising sun shines directly along the long passage into the chamber for about 17 minutes and illuminates the chamber floor. This alignment is too precise to be widely considered to be formed by chance. Professor M. J. O'Kelly was the first person in modern times to observe this event on December 21, 1967. The sun enters the passage through a specially contrived opening, known as a roofbox
Roofbox
A roofbox is a specially contrived opening above a doorway, usually built for some astronomical significant event.The term was coined by Professor Michael O’Kelly during his excavation of the Newgrange passage cairn, at Brú Na Bóinne, Ireland....

, directly above the main entrance. Although solar alignments are not uncommon among passage graves, Newgrange is one of few to contain the additional roofbox feature (Cairn
Cairn
Cairn is a term used mainly in the English-speaking world for a man-made pile of stones. It comes from the or . Cairns are found all over the world in uplands, on moorland, on mountaintops, near waterways and on sea cliffs, and also in barren desert and tundra areas...

 G at Carrowkeel Megalithic Cemetery
Carrowkeel Megalithic Cemetery
Carrowkeel is a Neolithic passage tomb cemetery in the south of County Sligo, near Boyle, County Roscommon. An Cheathrú Chaol in Irish means 'the Narrow Quarter'. Circumstantial Carbon 14 dating places the tombs at between 5400 and 5100 years old, so that they predate the Pyramids on Egypt's Giza...

 is another, and it has been suggested that one can be found at Bryn Celli Ddu.). The alignment is such that although the roofbox is above the passage entrance, the light hits the floor of the inner chamber. Today the first light enters about four minutes after sunrise, but calculations based on the precession of the Earth show that 5,000 years ago first light would have entered exactly at sunrise. The solar alignment at Newgrange is very precise compared to similar phenomena at other passage graves such as Dowth
Dowth
Dowth is a Neolithic passage tomb which stands in the Boyne Valley, County Meath, Ireland. It is found at .Dating from about 2,5002000 BCE, is the second oldest behind Newgrange of the three principal tombs of the Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site a complex of passage-tombs...

 or Maes Howe in the Orkney islands
Orkney Islands
Orkney also known as the Orkney Islands , is an archipelago in northern Scotland, situated north of the coast of Caithness...

, off the coast of Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

. Current-day visitors to Newgrange are treated to a re-enactment of this event through the use of electric lights situated within the tomb. The finale of a Newgrange tour results in every tour member standing inside the tomb where the tour guide then turns off the lights, and lights the light bulb simulating the sun as it would appear on the winter solstice. Anyone visiting the historic site can experience an approximation of the phenomenon any time of year, and is often the highlight of the tour. A lottery is held annually for "tickets" to be allowed into the tomb to view the actual event. The popularity of this event was the reason a lottery was introduced, and also why the lights were installed.

Disrepair and beaker settlement


During the Late Neolithic, it appears that Newgrange was no longer being used by the local population, who did not leave any artefacts in the passage tomb or bury any of their dead there. As the archaeologist Michael O’Kelly stated, "by 2000 [BC] Newgrange was in decay and squatters were living around its collapsing edge." These "squatters" were adherents of the Beaker culture
Beaker culture
The Bell-Beaker culture , ca. 2400 – 1800 BC, is the term for a widely scattered cultural phenomenon of prehistoric western Europe starting in the late Neolithic or Chalcolithic running into the early Bronze Age...

 which had been imported from continental Europe, and made Beaker-style pottery locally.

Mythology and folklore in the Medieval and Early Modern period


During the medieval period, Newgrange and the wider Brú na Bóinne
Brú na Bóinne
is a World Heritage Site in County Meath, Ireland and is the largest and one of the most important prehistoric megalithic sites in Europe.-The site:...

 Neolithic complex, gained various attributes in local folklore
Folklore
Folklore consists of legends, music, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales and customs that are the traditions of a culture, subculture, or group. It is also the set of practices through which those expressive genres are shared. The study of folklore is sometimes called...

, which was often connected to figures from wider Irish mythology
Irish mythology
The mythology of pre-Christian Ireland did not entirely survive the conversion to Christianity, but much of it was preserved, shorn of its religious meanings, in medieval Irish literature, which represents the most extensive and best preserved of all the branch and the Historical Cycle. There are...

. The monuments of the Brú were thought of by some as being the abode of the supernatural Tuatha De Danann
Tuatha Dé Danann
The Tuatha Dé Danann are a race of people in Irish mythology. In the invasions tradition which begins with the Lebor Gabála Érenn, they are the fifth group to settle Ireland, conquering the island from the Fir Bolg....

, whilst others considered them to be the burial mounds of the ancient kings of Tara
Hill of Tara
The Hill of Tara , located near the River Boyne, is an archaeological complex that runs between Navan and Dunshaughlin in County Meath, Leinster, Ireland...

. Amongst those who believed the folkloric tales relating the Brú to the Tuatha De Danann, it was commonly thought that they were the abode of the most powerful of the Tuatha, particularly The Dagda
The Dagda
The Dagda is an important god of Irish mythology. The Dagda is a father-figure and a protector of the tribe. In some texts his father is Elatha, in others his mother is Ethniu. Other texts say that his mother is Danu; while others yet place him as the father of Danu, perhaps due to her...

, his wife Boann
Boann
Boann or Boand is the Irish mythology goddess of the River Boyne, a river in Leinster, Ireland. According to the Lebor Gabála Érenn she was the daughter of Delbáeth, son of Elada, of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Her husband is variously Nechtan, Elcmar or Nuada. Her lover is the Dagda, by whom she had...

 and his son, Oengus. According to the 11th century Book of Lecan, the Dagda had built the Brú for himself and his three sons, whilst the 12th century Book of Leinster
Book of Leinster
The Book of Leinster , is a medieval Irish manuscript compiled ca. 1160 and now kept in Trinity College, Dublin, under the shelfmark MS H 2.18...

describes how Oengus tricked his father into giving him the Brú for all eternity. Another text, The Pursuit of Diarmaid and Grainne also implies that Oengus owned the Brú, when he declared how he took his friend Diarmaid
Diarmaid
Diarmaid is a masculine given name in the Irish language. Earlier forms of the name include Diarmit and Diarmuit. Variations of the name include Diarmait and Diarmuid. Anglicised forms of the name include Dermot and Dermod. The etymology of the name is uncertain...

 to it.

Meanwhile, in 1142 it had become part of outlying farmland owned by the Cistercian Abbey of Mellifont. These farms were referred to as 'granges'. By 1378 it was simply called 'the new grange'. Because of the Williamite confiscations Charles Campbell became the landowner as a grantee of estates forfeited in 1688.

Antiquarianism in the 17th and 18th centuries



In 1699, a local landowner, Charles Campbell, ordered some of his farm labourers to dig up a part of Newgrange, which then had the appearance of a large mound of earth, so that he could collect stone from within it. The labourers soon discovered the entrance to the tomb within the mound, and a Welsh antiquarian named Edward Lhwyd, who was staying in the area, was alerted and took an interest in the monument. He wrote an account of the mound and its tomb, describing what he saw as its "barbarous sculpture" and noting that animal bones, beads and pieces of glass had been found inside of it (modern archaeologists have speculated that these latter two were in fact the polished pottery beads that have subsequently been found at the site and which were a common feature of Neolithic tombs). Soon another antiquarian visitor also came to the site, named Sir Thomas Molyneaux, who was a professor at the University of Dublin
University of Dublin
The University of Dublin , corporately designated the Chancellor, Doctors and Masters of the University of Dublin , located in Dublin, Ireland, was effectively founded when in 1592 Queen Elizabeth I issued a charter for Trinity College, Dublin, as "the mother of a university" – this date making it...

. He talked to Charles Campbell, who informed him that he had found the remains of two human corpses in the tomb, one (which was male), in one of the cisterns, and another further along the passageway, something that Lhwyd had not noted. Subsequently, Newgrange was visited by a number of antiquarians, who often performed their own measurements of the site and made their own observations, which were often published in various antiquarian journals; these included such figures as Sir William Wilde, Sir Thomas Pownall, Thomas Wright
Thomas Wright
Thomas Wright was an English antiquarian and writer.-Life:Wright was born near Ludlow, in Shropshire, descended from a Quaker family formerly living at Bradford, Yorkshire...

, John O'Donovan
John O'Donovan
John O'Donovan may refer to:*John O'Donovan , Irish language scholar and place-name expert*John O'Donovan , Irish TD and Senator*John O'Donovan, guitarist with The Adolescents punk band...

, George Petrie
George Petrie
George Petrie , was an Irish painter, musician, antiquary and archaeologist of the Victorian era.-Personal life:...

 and James Fergusson
James Fergusson
James Fergusson may refer to:*Sir James Fergusson, 2nd Baronet , Scottish politician and judge*Sir James Fergusson, 4th Baronet *Sir James Fergusson , Governor of Gibraltar from 1855 to 1859...

.

These antiquarians often concocted their own theories about the origins of Newgrange, many of which have since been proved incorrect. Sir Thomas Pownall for instance stated that the mound had originally been much taller but that a lot of the stone on top of it had subsequently been removed, a theory which has subsequently been disproven by archaeological research. The majority of these antiquarians also refused to believe that it was ancient peoples native to Ireland who built the monument, with many believing that it had been built in the early Mediaeval period by invading Vikings, whilst others speculated that it had been actually built by the Ancient Egyptians, ancient India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

ns or the Phoenicians.

Conservation and archaeological investigation in the 19th and 20th centuries



At some time in the early 1800s a folly
Folly
In architecture, a folly is a building constructed primarily for decoration, but either suggesting by its appearance some other purpose, or merely so extravagant that it transcends the normal range of garden ornaments or other class of building to which it belongs...

 was constructed a few yards behind Newgrange. The folly, with two circular windows, was made of stones taken from Newgrange. In 1882, under the Ancient Monuments Protection Act, Newgrange, alongside the nearby monuments of Knowth and Dowth, was taken under the control of the state (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, as it was then known), and they were placed under the responsibility of the Board of Public Works. In 1890, under the leadership of Thomas Newenham Deane, the Board began a project of conservation of the monument, which had been damaged through general deterioration over the previous three millennia as well as the increasing vandalism caused by visitors, some of whom had inscribed their names on the stones. In subsequent decades, a number of archaeologists
Archaeology
Archaeology, or archeology , is the study of human society, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that they have left behind, which includes artifacts, architecture, biofacts and cultural landscapes...

 performed excavations at the site, discovering more about its function and how it had been constructed, however even at the time it was still widely believed by archaeologists to be Bronze Age
Bronze Age
The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age...

 in origin rather than the older Neolithic. In the 1950s, electric lighting was installed in the passageway to allow visitors to see more clearly, whilst an exhaustive archaeological excavation was undertaken from 1962 through to 1975, the excavation report of which was written by Michael J. O'Kelly and published in 1982 by Thames and Hudson as Newgrange: Archaeology, Art and Legend.

Following this excavation, further restoration took place at the site. As a part of the restoration process the white quartzite stones and cobble
Cobblestone
Cobblestones are stones that were frequently used in the pavement of early streets. "Cobblestone" is derived from the very old English word "cob", which had a wide range of meanings, one of which was "rounded lump" with overtones of large size...

s were fixed into a near-vertical steel
Steel
Steel is an alloy that consists mostly of iron and has a carbon content between 0.2% and 2.1% by weight, depending on the grade. Carbon is the most common alloying material for iron, but various other alloying elements are used, such as manganese, chromium, vanadium, and tungsten...

-reinforced concrete
Reinforced concrete
Reinforced concrete is concrete in which reinforcement bars , reinforcement grids, plates or fibers have been incorporated to strengthen the concrete in tension. It was invented by French gardener Joseph Monier in 1849 and patented in 1867. The term Ferro Concrete refers only to concrete that is...

 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
Retaining wall
Retaining walls are built in order to hold back earth which would otherwise move downwards. Their purpose is to stabilize slopes and provide useful areas at different elevations, e.g...

 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
Knowth
Knowth is a Neolithic passage grave and an ancient monument of Brú na Bóinne in the valley of the River Boyne in Ireland.Knowth is the largest of all passage graves situated within the Brú na Bóinne complex. The site consists of one large mound and 17 smaller satellite tombs...

, where the restorers have laid the quartzite stones out as an "apron" in front of the entrance to the great mound.

Access to Newgrange


Access to Newgrange is by guided tour only. Tours begin at the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre
Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre
The Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre is the starting point for all visits to the monuments of Newgrange and Knowth in Ireland.-Background:The Visitor Centre is located near the village of Donore, County Meath...

 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 lottery at the interpretive centre. Roughly 100 people are chosen each year, fifty people receive tickets and are permitted to bring a guest per ticket. 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 2008, 34,107 people entered the lottery. The yearly winter solstice on the morning of December 21, is often broadcast live on RTÉ television and the solstices of 2007 and 2008 could also be watched worldwide over the Internet via webcast
Webcast
A webcast is a media presentation distributed over the Internet using streaming media technology to distribute a single content source to many simultaneous listeners/viewers. A webcast may either be distributed live or on demand...

.

See also

  • Archaeoastronomy
    Archaeoastronomy
    Archaeoastronomy is the study of how people in the past "have understood the phenomena in the sky how they used phenomena in the sky and what role the sky played in their cultures." Clive Ruggles argues it is misleading to consider archaeoastronomy to be the study of ancient astronomy, as modern...

  • List of archaeoastronomical sites by country
  • List of megalithic sites
  • List of the oldest buildings in the world
  • Reyfad Stones

External links