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Newgrange

Newgrange (Irish: Sí an Bhrú) is a passage tomb of the Brú na Bóinne complex in County Meath. It is one of the most famous prehistoric sites in the world, and indeed 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.[1]

Contents

History

The massive complex of Newgrange was originally built between c. 3100 and 2900 BC,[2] meaning that it is approximately 5,000 years old. According to Carbon-14 dates,[3] it is more than 500 years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, and predates Stonehenge by about 1,000 years.

In the Neolithic period, Newgrange continued as a focus of some 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.

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Recent history, excavation and restoration

Newgrange and its secrets lay hidden for nearly 5,000 years due to mound slippage. 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. It was Campbell's servants looking for building stones who uncovered it in the summer of 1699. First they found engraved spirals on the entrance stone. Soon they discovered what they thought was a cave but upon further investigation found a long narrow passage which lead to a large chamber. The servants informed Campbell of their discovery and he in turn contacted the Welsh antiquarian, naturalist and philologist Edward Lhuyd. Lhyud's investigation led to him being attributed with its 'discovery'. The 'alleged' finding of two skeletons led to the belief that the mound was a sepulchre. It was General Charles Vallancey (Irish name Cathal Uabhallansi), a British army officer of the Engineers in the Tenth Regiment of Foot who first challenged, in his monumental work Collectanea de Rebus Hibernicus, the notions of the mound being a burial place. Although eventually ridiculed, Vallancey believed that this megalithic mound had more to do with astronomical explanations than as chambers for the dead. Martin Brennan in his 1983 book 'The Stars and the Stones: Ancient Art and Astronomy in Ireland' - Thames and Hudson 1983, (later re-published as The Stones of Time, 1994) goes into great detail to debunk the 'burial' myth further.

Newgrange was excavated and much restored between 1962 and 1975, under the supervision of Professor Michael J. O'Kelly, Department of Archaeology, University College, Cork.[4] 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 quartzite and granite. Most of the stones were sourced locally (within a radius of 20 km or so) but the quartzite 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 quartzite stones out as an "apron" in front of the entrance to the great mound.

Features

The Newgrange mound is 76 m (250 ft) across and 12 m (40 ft) high, and covers 0.4 hectares (one acre). Within the mound, a long passage, stretching approximately one-third of the length of the mound, leads to a cruciform (cross-shaped) chamber. The passage itself is over 18 m (60 ft) long. The burial chamber has a corbelled roof which rises steeply upwards to a height of nearly 6 m (20 ft). A tribute to its builders, the roof has remained essentially intact and waterproof for over 5,000 years.

View from front

Near Newgrange are many other passage tombs, the largest being Knowth, and another significant tomb, Dowth. These tombs are all contemporary with Newgrange and together they and their 37 smaller satellite tombs form the Brú na Bóinne complex.

Art

Entrance stone with megalithic art

Spiral and lozenge motifs engraved on the magnificent entrance slab, "one of the most famous stones in the entire repertory of megalithic art",[5] 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. Martin Brennan carried out an extensive study of Megalithic art in the Boyne Valley. He relates the function of the mounds, which he claims is astronomical, to the art and offers a possible way to read the glyphs.

Solstice event

Once a year, at the winter solstice, the rising sun shines directly along the long passage into the chamber for about 17 minutes and illuminates the chamber floor.[1] 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.[6]

The sun enters the passage through a specially contrived opening, known as a roofbox, 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 G at Carrowkeel Megalithic Cemetery is another). 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.[2] The solar alignment at Newgrange is 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.

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.

Purpose and uses

The prevailing consensus among Irish archaeology is that Newgrange appears to have been used as a tomb. The recesses in the cruciform chamber hold large stone basins into which were placed cremated human remains. During excavation, the partial remains from five individuals were found, this is offered as evidence of the tomb theory. 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 ("New" Stone Age) people who built it. This view is strengthened by the discovery of alignments in Knowth, Dowth 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. 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.

Newgrange in Irish mythology

According to Irish mythology, Newgrange was one of the sidhe, or fairy-mounds, where the Tuatha Dé Danann lived. It was built by the god Dagda, but his son Oengus later tricked him out of it. It is named for the goddess Boann, the mother of Aengus, who is also credited with the creation of the River Boyne. According to some versions of the story, the hero Cúchulainn was conceived there. However, most of the mythical cycles associated with Newgrange date from the Celtic era of Irish history and mythology. The monument was already in existence for well over 2,000 years before the Celtic era.

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 lottery at the interpretive center. 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.

References

  1. ^ a b "The Winter Solstice illumination of Newgrange". http://www.mythicalireland.com/ancientsites/newgrange/illumination.html. Retrieved 2007-10-12. 
  2. ^ a b "PlanetQuest: The History of Astronomy - Newgrange". http://www.planetquest.org/learn/newgrange.html. 
  3. ^ E. Grogan, "Prehistoric and Early Historic Cultural Change at Brugh na Bóinne", Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 91C, 1991, pp. 126-132
  4. ^ M. J. O'Kelly, Newgrange. Archaeology Art and Legend, London: Thames and Hudson, 1982
  5. ^ Ó Ríordáin, Seán P.; Glyn, Edmund Daniel (1964). New Grange and the Bend of the Boyne. F.A. Praeger. pp. 26.  [1]
  6. ^ "Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth)". http://www.meath.ie/Tourism/Heritage/Newgrange/. Retrieved 2007-10-12. 

See also

External links

Coordinates: 53°41′39.73″N 6°28′30.11″W / 53.6943694°N 6.4750306°W / 53.6943694; -6.4750306


Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Brú Na Bóinne Archaeological Park article)

From Wikitravel

Europe : Britain and Ireland : Ireland : East Coast and Midlands : County Meath : Brú Na Bóinne Archaeological Park
Newgrange Neolithic Burial Mound
Newgrange Neolithic Burial Mound

Brú na Bóinne (English: "Palace of the Boyne") is an internationally important complex of Neolithic chamber tombs, standing stones, henges and other prehistoric enclosures located in a wide meander of the River Boyne in Ireland. The Brú Na Bóinne Visitor Centre acts as a gateway to the Brú Na Bóinne Archaeological Park for visitors from all over the world and is the starting point for all visits to the archaeological sites of Newgrange and Knowth. It is administered by the Office of Public Works [1] and Heritage Ireland [2]. Newgrange is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Access to the other sites in the Brú na Bóinne Archaeological Park is limited. The Dowth site is open to the public direct from the road, but there is only limited access to the southern chamber (during the Winter Solstice alignment) and no access to the northern passage & chamber. Many of the satellite sites are on private land, and therefore access is extremely restricted and requires permission from the landowners.

Get in

By car

From Dublin, take the M1 towards Drogheda. From the west take the N52 via Navan/Slane. On both routes follow the brown/white signage for the Visitor Centre and not for Newgrange Farm. The Visitor Centre is located west of the village of Donore, Co. Meath, Ireland. This tends to cause some confusion among visitors, as the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre is located on the south side of the river Boyne, whereas the sites themselves are located on the north side of the river.

By train

Take a train to Drogheda, then take a local bus from the bus station (see below) a 15 min walk from the train station. Drogheda is well served by direct intercity and commuter services from Belfast and Dublin.

By bus

From Dublin, take the No.100X bus to Drogheda from Busáras bus station [3]), from Belfast take the BE service from the Europa Buscentre to Drogheda. From Drogheda take the the No.163 bus from the bus station to the Visitor Centre in Donore [4].

All access to the Newgrange and Knowth sites is by guided tour only and all tours begin at the Visitor Centre. Anyone arriving directly at the sites will be redirected to the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre, where they are placed on the next available tour. Visitors cross the river via a footbridge at the Visitor Centre and are brought by shuttle bus to the sites. Due to the small nature of the interior of the sites, places are limited to max 700 per day, which can fill up quickly - particularly during summer months. Tours are sold on a first come, first serve basis and so visitors are advised to arrive early.

Tour operators

Bus Éireann [5], Mary Gibbons (highly recommended) [6] and Irish City Tours [7] operate regular tours from Dublin to the Visitor Centre and Newgrange site most days.

Entrance to passage tomb
Entrance to passage tomb

The Visitor Centre is open all year round, with longer opening hours in the summer time. The Visitor Centre houses a large interactive exhibition on the Brú na Bóinne area, an audio-visual presentation, a wheelchair accessible replica of the interior of the passage and chamber at Newgrange. It also has a tourist office, gift shop and tea rooms. There is a large car park and a picnic area at the Visitor Centre. There is no left luggage facility.

The Visitor Centre exhibition, audio-visual presentation, return shuttle bus to either site and full guided tour are all included in the entry fee. Visitors have access to the chamber at Newgrange (no photography or filming is allowed). There is only very limited access to the eastern passage of Knowth and visitors may only look down it - there is no access to either passage or chamber.

  • Enter the annual Solstice lottery for a place in the chamber of Newgrange on the winter solstice (21 December).
  • Visit Newgrange on the Winter Solstice in order to witness the rising sun alignment (weather permitting). Access to the site is allowed, but only winners of the annual solstice lottery and other guests are allowed access to the chamber.
  • Visit Dowth on the Winter Solstice in order to witness the setting sun alignment (weather permitting). No lottery applies - usually the assembled people take turns inside the chamber.

Eat

There is a cafe, tourist information point & toilet facilities available in the Visitor Centre. Limited toilet facilities are available on-site at Newgrange and Knowth.

  • Newgrange Lodge Hotel [8] - Formerly an old farmhouse, Newgrange Lodge offers hotel accommodation and traditional Irish hospitality at bed and breakfast rates to both groups and the independent traveller alike. We are located opposite the world famous UNESCO Heritage site of Newgrange. The lodge is perched on seven acres overlooking the tranquil, picturesque Boyne Valley.
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Simple English

Newgrange is a Megalithic Passage Tomb at Newgrange, County Meath, Ireland, and was built about 3200 BC. The kidney shaped mound covers an area of over one acre and is surrounded by 97 kerbstones, some of which are decorated with megalithic art. The 19 metre long inner passage leads to a cruciform chamber with a corbelled roof. It is estimated that the construction of the Passage Tomb at Newgrange would have taken a work force of 300 at least 20 years.[needs proof]

The passage and chamber of Newgrange are lit up by the winter solstice sunrise. A shaft of sunlight shines through the roof box over the entrance and penetrates the passage to light up the chamber. The dramatic event lasts for 17 minutes at dawn on the Winter Solstice and for a few mornings either side of the Winter Solstice.

Admission to the Newgrange chamber for the Winter Solstice sunrise is by lottery, application forms are available at the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre. For the 2007 draw 28,106 applications were submitted. In September each year, 50 names are drawn with 2 places are awarded to each name drawn.

Megalithic mounds

Megalithic mounds such as Newgrange entered Irish mythology as sídhe or fairy mounds. Newgrange was said to be the home of Oenghus, the god of love. The Passage Tomb at Newgrange was re-discovered in 1699 by the removal of material for road building. A major excavation of Newgrange began in 1962; the original facade of sparkling white quartz was rebuilt using stone found at the site.

World heritage site

Newgrange has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and attracts 200,000 visitors per year.[needs proof] There is no direct access to the Passage Tomb at Newgrange, access is by guided tour from the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre located close to the village of Donore, Co. Meath. The last tour of Newgrange is 90 minutes before closing time of the Visitor Centre.

Newgrange chamber

Images from inside the chamber at Newgrange including the tri-spiral design on orthostat C10 which is probably the most famous Irish Megalithic symbol. It is often referred to as a Celtic design, but it was carved at least 2500 years before the Celts reached Ireland. At 12 inches in diameter the tri-spiral design is quite small in size, less than one-third the size of the tri-spiral design on the entrance stone.


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