Newgrange: A Megalithic Passage Grave Known As The Tomb Of The Kings Dating Back To 3200 BC

Newgrange, located in County Meath in Ireland is an exceptionally grand passage tomb built around 3200 BC during the Neolithic Period. This prehistoric monument pre-dates Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids.

An aerial view of the magnificent Newgrange
An aerial view of the magnificent Newgrange prehistoric monument

When it was unearthed in 1699 by men looking for building stone. Newgrange was described as a cave. Since then it had been attributed to the Danes, regarded as the tomb of the kings of Tara belonging to the first century of the Christian era, and even seen as a remote descendant of the beehive tombs at Mycenae. In fact, it is far older than Mycenae, older even than Stonehenge or the pyramids. Newgrange, celebrated in Irish literature as the Brugh (abode) of Boyne, is a megalithic passage grave dating back to 3200 B.C., and it offers clear evidence that a technically competent and sophisticated Neolithic society was flourishing in the Boyne Valley at this time.


A passage, 3 feet (91cm) wide and 55 feet (16.7m) long, lined and roofed with great monoliths, leads to a ceremonial chamber that has three arms. The height of the passage increases from under 5 feet (1.5m) at the front to twice this at the chamber entrance. Both chamber and passage are covered by a cairn estimated to contain 220,507 U.S. tons (200, 000 metric tons) of loose stones. The whole structure was sealed against water penetration and ringed by standing stones.

Newgrange poses many unanswered questions. Why did so elaborate a tomb apparently contain the remains of only five bodies? How were the huge slabs of stone transported to this site? (They were not quarried, but appear to have been deposited around the region by glacial movement.) How long did the work take, and how many people were involved? Some stones are decorated with distinctive geometric patterns, but why is the decoration sometimes hidden from view?

On another point there is greater certainty: the excavator of Newgrange, Professor O'Kelly, has shown that the tomb is oriented in such a way that the rising midwinter sun shines along the length of the passageway and into the chamber. It would have done the same, casting light on one decorated stone at the far end of the chamber, when Newgrange was built.


Inside the chamber at Newgrange
Inside the chamber at Newgrange

The entrance to the passageway was originally blocked by a stone, but sunlight enters through a slit carefully constructed in the roof above. The effect has been observed at the winter solstice and for about a week before and after this date. Something similar is known in Scotland's Orkney Islands at the chambered tomb of Maes Howe, which had been dated to before 2700 B.C., but in this case, it is the setting midwinter sun that illuminates the tomb. The importance of the sun at Newgrange supports the theory, drawn from early Irish literature, that the tomb was associated with supernatural creatures, in particular the Dagda, or "good god" who was also known as the sun god.


The Boyne Valley Cemetery


Newgrange stands in an area formed by a loop of the River Boyne that is strangely rich in prehistoric monuments. Within a mile or two are two other mounds, Knowth and Dowth, which are much the same size as Newgrange but are thought to have been made slightly later. The Knowth mound contains two passage graves, and many smaller ones lie outside. In the vicinity, there are also several barrows and standing stones, and it would not be difficult to believe that the whole complex acquired some sort of mystic reputation over the centuries.


Both Knowth and Dowth show signs of disturbance by later visitors, but Newgrange appears to have stayed sealed. This may mean that the latter was regarded with special respect or perhaps feared as a house of the dead. The discovery of objects outside the mound, including jewellery and coins from the 4th century A.D., suggests that Newgrange was considered a holy place and that there was a tradition of leaving offerings (albeit at a safe distance) to please the inhabitants. Cumae: An Ancient Cave Of Prophecy: Oracles, Roman Poets & The Entrance To The Underworld



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