Bru na Boinne, County Meath, Ireland
One of Ireland’s most infamous monuments and archaeological sites, Newgrange is amongst the Bru na Boinne World Heritage sites next to Knowth and Dowth. It is popular like Stonehenge with its Solstice astronomical line-ups and viewing of the sun as it appears through its portal. The monument is a large mound complex shaped like a giant kidney covering an area of about an acre of land and is surrounded by 97 kerbstones most of which are decorated by megalithic rock art. Newgrange is one of the best examples in Ireland and Western Europe of a passage grave or tomb. Constructed around 3200 BCE, this site is older than the Egyptian pyramids and a 1,000 years older than Stonehenge.
Located along a elongated ridge on the Boyne River, five miles west of Drogheda, and close to the location where the Battle of the Boyne took place in 1690. Built entirely with stone tools, the Faerie Sidhe (folklore) or Passage Grave (Archaeology) is an impressive monument: The purpose of the monument is disputed greatly as there is no evidence that Newgrange was used as a repository for bodies, bones, burial artifacts or ash. Mythology tells us that the Tuatha De Danann, legendary first rulers of Ireland, built Newgrange as a burial place for their chief – the Dagda Mor with his three sons. The site is also believed to be where the hero Cuchulainn was conceived by his mother Dechtine. Also listed in mythology as a Faerie Mound, it was believed to have been the home of Oenghus, the God of Love. Other theories are that it was a place of worship for a “cult of he dead”; or for astronomically-based faiths. It is also believed to have been a burial site for Celtic Kings and a meeting place for Druids and Faeries. Legends state that t some otherworldly conditions, the Queen of the Faeries can be seen here with her subjects.
Visitors can only access Newgrange via bus shuttle from the visitor center at Bru na Boinne and those wishing to see the Winter Solstice sunrise light-up has to be awarded via lottery for the experience with a select few other lottery winners. A 19 meter long inner passage leads to a cruciform chamber with a corbelled roof. At the end of the passage are three small chambers off the larger central chamber. Each of the smaller chambers has a large flat “basin stone”; which is where it is believed the bones of the dead were originally deposited. During the Winter Solstice, lights of the rising sun enters the roofbox – lighting up the passage, and shining onto the floor of the inner chamber – illuminating the room for 17 minutes. Megalithic Rock Art surrounds the monument with some world notable pieces such as the triskel carved on the entrance stone, Kerbstone 1 and 52. Other rock art carvings fit into one of ten categories, five of which are curvilinear (circles, spirals, arcs, serpentine forms, and dot-in-circles), and the other five are rectilinear (chevrons, lozenges, radials, parallel lines and offsets). Intriguing archaeological finds were found throughout the site, including Roman coins, an iron wedge, and a stone phallus. It is believed to have taken 20 years to build with a work force dedicated all of those years full time of 300 individuals. Under the burial tomb theory, it is believed to have been sealed and closed for several millenia after which the local folklore and mythology of the faeries were believed to be assigned to the mound. The site was used for ritual purposes well into the Iron Age.
The Passage tomb was re-discovered in 1699 when material for road building was being harvested from the mound. A large excavation of the mound took place in 1962 as well as the rebuilding of the original facade of sparkling white quartz stones found at the site. Newgrange has been compared to the Gavrinis passage tomb in Brittany for which it is very similar to. The Gavrinis cairn is 5,500 years old; 60 meters in diameter, and covers a passage and chamber that is lined with elaborately engraved stone. Newgrange is built of alternating layers of earth and stone with grass growing atop, and the front reconstructed facade is of flattish white quartz stone studded at intervals with large rounded cobbles covering the circumference. Newgrange was found written about as a tumulus in a letter by Edward Lhwyd in December 15, 1699. The Annals of the Four Masters state that the Danes plundered Newgrange in 861. It has been said that during the first excavation, a large amount of treasures including ornaments and fictilia (earthenware objects) including a gold chain, two rings, a gold trocks, a bronze pin, and a small iron weapon were recovered.
- Other information, references, resources:
- Ancient Origins 2016 “Newgrange: A Home for Magicians, Fairies, Gods, and Kings”. Website visited 11/1/16 at http://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places-europe/newgrange-home-magicians-fairies-gods-and-kings-006921
- Irish Archaeology 2012 “Newgrange through the Ages”. Website visited 11/1/16 at http://irisharchaeology.ie/2012/12/images-of-newgrange-through-the-ages/.
- Newgrange n.d. “Newgrange”. Website visited 11/1/16 at http://www.newgrange.com/newgrange-tumulus.htm.