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Discovered - Newgrange's Ancient Amazing Secret
Newgrange (County Meath, Ireland)
Member Name: Pinotage
Newgrange (County Meath, Ireland)
Date: 13/01/01, updated on 16/01/01 (93 review reads)
Advantages: Incomparable neolithic structure
Disadvantages: None for prehistory fans, otherwise cold wet and just a pile of stones
Many things make this complex, known as Brú na Bóinne, different. The size and number of the mounds, the sheer number of intricate and unique patterns carved in the huge stones, the tall corbelled chamber roof. But most of all because of what happens at Solstice - the shortest day of the year. On that morning (and the two mornings before and after it) the sun rising over the opposite edge of the valley shines through a slot above Newgrange's entrance and lights a molten gold path that inches its way along the chamber entrance tunnel into the chamber itself. The chamber glows with gold light so bright that you can see clearly and then it inches out, like the tide on a beach, retreating down the passageway until once again the chamber is dark.
Newgrange was originally built about 3500 BC and today is in a much restored form. It consists of a vast stone and turf mound about 85m (280ft) in diameter and 13.5m (44ft) high, containing a passage leading to a chamber. Outside the base, 12 out of the original estimated 38 large boulders up to 2.4m (8ft) high form a ring of about 104m (340ft) in diameter. The stone circle was built about 1000 years later than the original structure, dating probably from the Beaker period. This ring of stones is almost unique in Great Britain and Ireland.
When you stand in the chamber you cannot see the entrance. The passageway has a bend. The chamber is
completely without light. The floor of the chamber is some two metres above the ground level of the entrance. It is at the level of the slot above the doorway. By kneeling and putting ones cheek on the floor at the rear of the chamber can you see the slot, some nineteen metres distant.
Visitors are welcome to enter the chamber in a small groups organised by the new visitor centre. I first come to Newgrange some seven or eight years ago and was amazed and moved by it. I found that one could register to go on waiting list to be in the chamber at Solstice. In October 1999 I received the invitation to attend on Wednesday 22 December 1999, the day after the Solstice. I booked flight tickets and a hotel via the internet, arranging to arrive on the Monday.
Monday was bright and clear and there was a great view of the sunrise as we flew into Dublin. On arriving I couldn't wait to visit Newgrange again and went there straight away. I was surprised to find the new Brú na Bóinne visitor centre, which is excellent, and booked a tour. It was windy and raining hard and there was only a handful of visitors in the bus that shuttles you to the mound.
The guide did an excellent job of explaining the mound, and what had been found during excavations. The roof slot had been a mystery to the archaeologists, although local people (through some folk memory) had said the sun lit the chamber at certain times of the year. It was only in the late '60s that modern eyes witnessed the phenomenon.
On Wednesday I had to be at Newgrange at 08:30. But driving there in the dark there was no glimmer of light in the sky. It was raining and thick clouds covered the horizon, no stars, no moon. We waited outside the mound until 08:45, the rain got heavier. We then went into the chamber, there were 18 people, plus the guide. She tried to cheer us with tales of similar mornings in the past when the clouds had lifted at the last minute. The lights
were turned out and we waiting in complete darkness. A pale watery grey light made a faint beam along the floor as the sun rose behind the clouds. It was daylight, not the bright beam of sunlight that we had been waiting for. A real disappointment. But it was an honour to be allowed in the chamber for dawn. I wonder how many times in the past centuries wise people or leaders had stood waiting for the sun. Being a sun worshipper in Ireland requires a great deal of faith.
Throughout this account I have called Newgrange a mound. Usually it is called a burial mound or tomb. No one knows what it was built for, how it was used or what it means. It is true that human remains were found there. But from only five or six people. Christian cathedrals often have burials in them, but that doesn't mean they were built as tombs. My own feeling now is that its primary purpose was not to be a tomb.
The site was built some five thousand five hundred years ago and used for centuries. It's meaning many have changed over the millennia. But we will never now know and we can never prove its meaning. There is no doubt it is a special place.
Newgrange is easy to visit from Dublin and is an absolute must for those interested in prehistory. You will be amazed and uplifted. Wrap up warm and take waterproofs and sensible shoes.