This 5,500 word response goes into great detail on the Newgrange, Stone Age, passage tomb in Ireland. More specifically, the response discusses possible astronomical applications Newgrange may have, much similar to those of Stonehenge. It also talks about Newgrange's physical layout above and below ground, its location, records of its discovery, re-discovery and escavation, as well as the artwork within its passages and similarities to myth and legend. Finally, this response goes into several theories of what Newgrange was used for, and talks about its significance with the Winter Solstace.
What's the first thing you think of when you hear 3200 B.C., cavemen or maybe the Stone Age? How about people running around in furry clothes carrying clubs. Well, maybe furry clothes and an axe made of copper are closer to what you should be imagining. This is about 100 years before the original build of Stonehenge was started and about 1000 years before the completion of its current configuration. This is actually the beginning of the Bronze Age, the time of the first Pharaohs, and the time period when the first 365 day calendar was introduced (TIMweb). The people of this time period were actually a bit beyond caves, but it was, however, the very end of the Stone Age. To get a better idea of what people looked like, although he has been dated to about 100 years earlier, you can read up on Otzi the Iceman found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%96tzi_the_Iceman. This is the time of one of Ireland's best examples of a passage-grave or passage-tomb; Newgrange (101web). But what's so special about this monument isn't the fact that it's an old burial site or that it has a lot of intricate designs carved into its stones, but its possible astronomical applications, very much like Stonehenge. Possible, because this is also the time that written language was being introduced into civilization, and we don't have a definite translation of what is found at this and other sites around this area. So, as you can imagine, there have been a lot of theories and speculation out there from its first recorded "rediscovery" in 1699 to its excavation starting in 1962 up to present day on this sites original purpose. What I hope to accomplish in this project is to weed through all of the information that I have been able to find on Newgrange, and speculate myself, on what is more likely to be true and what is not. And hopefully this will give a better understanding and thought of what Newgrange is likely to be all about.
THE PHYSICAL NEWGRANGE
Figure 1: TSIweb
Newgrange is situated about 1 kilometer north of the Boyne River outside of Dublin, Ireland amongst a group of three other passage-graves, Knowth, Dowth and Fourknocks. The tomb consists of a passage and chambers built of large stone slabs. A large circular mound of loose stones covers the tomb. This mound is surrounded by a circle of 12 standing stones (of the possible 35 to 38 original stones). The base of the mound is surrounded by a kerb of massive slabs laid end to end (97 in all). The 18.95 meter tomb passage runs from the southeast to the northwest, lined on each side by a total of 43 orthostats or large upright standing stones. The roof of the passage and chambers are covered by massive stone slabs layered to support the loose stones covering them, and are supported by the orthostats. There is an opening (roof-box) above the entrance of the passage which is ornamented by ancient carvings on the forward-facing edge. It is 90 centimeters in height, 1 meter in width, and 1.2 meters in depth. The passage way and chambers are cruciform in shape, containing three side-chambers. The northern most chamber is 5.25 meters in depth, and the distance from the back of the western chamber to the back of the eastern chamber is 6.55 meters. The eastern chamber being the largest of the three, and the most ornate with two basin stones (one inside the other). There are single basins in each of the other chambers. These chambers are covered with a vaulted stone ceiling constructed by layering rows of long, flat stones with each row moved slightly closer to the center until a single "capstone" is placed to seal off the chambers some 6 meters above the floor. A very sophisticated structure for its time, the monument was built as a free-standing structure before being covered. Also, the elements were kept in mind when built, as the stones were caulked with a mixture of burnt soil and sea sand in order to water proof the structure, as well as a series of grooves that had been cut into the slabs covering the passage and chambers in order to carry water that seeped through the mound away from the insides of Newgrange (O'Kelly 1982).
Figure 2: TSIweb
Figure 3: 101web
Probably the most familiar part of Newgrange, whether people realize their origins or not, is the artwork found in, on and around the monument. These rude carvings and "barbarous sculpture(s)" have been one of the main focus' of attention since Edward Lhwyd's visit in 1699. According to Claire O'Kelly in part V of Michael J. O'Kelly's Newgrange: Archaeology, Art and Legend, the motifs used in Irish passage-grave art can be conveniently broken down into ten categories; five being of curvilinear type (circles, spirals, arcs, serpentiforms and dot-in-circles) and five rectilinear (zigzags or chevrons, lozenges, radials or star-shapes, parallel lines and offsets or comb-devices). O'Kelly (Michael J.) also makes the observation that no matter how random the designs may appear, each passage-grave site seems to have a design scheme all of its own, different from those of Dowth, Knowth and each of their several satellite sites. Newgrange's common thread seems to revolve around the lozenge and zigzag (chevron) with the former most prevalent inside the tomb. The circle is the next most used symbol, occurring mostly on the back of kerbstones and other inconspicuous locations. Spirals, although numerically inferior, are of the most prominent symbols at Newgrange. Finally, the rarest of the designs at this site are of the parallel lines and offsets, radials or radiating lines, usually including a central dot (O'Kelly 1982).
As stated earlier in this report, we are dealing with an age of people who had no written form of language to speak of ... or are we? Could these drawings of intricate (some of them) patterns, that must have taken a good amount of time, be their form of language? Of course, there are two schools of thought on this idea. George Coffey's study of the artwork in the 1890's suggests that the markings only reflect the decorating style of the times. There is no doubt that ornamentation was intended on some stones due to the well-balanced nature and intricate techniques used in perfect harmony with the shape of their canvas and their locations throughout the grave. One, however, could also say that the actual process of the carving of these symbols was of the utmost importance ... that is, it was fulfilling a ceremonial, religious, or symbolic purpose. However, it is definitely evident that some stones were carved with care and no sense of urgency, where others were carved, seemingly, just to get the symbols on their stone tablets. For example, the entrance stone is regarded as one of the finest examples of Neolithic art in European history (Tuffy 1997). Curiously, the question is asked, that on a structure that seemingly has no signs of urgency or carelessness in its construction, why would there be a hint of that sense in the artwork? One could only interpret that as the fact that the symbols were the important part, not their presentation. One of the biggest findings in reference to the artwork within Newgrange is the symbols that were found on stones that would not have been seen had it not been for the excavation that took place in the 1960's. Also, some of the visible art continues beyond the visible areas ... that is, it continues below the surface of the ground (Tuffy 1997). This would tend to make one think that the position of these ornamentations were not important due to their obscurity, but the fact that a majority of the radials and dot-in-circles are found on these "out of sight" locations could make one think that these stones, locations, and symbols (or all of them together) hold some special meaning. Might these symbols not have been meant to be seen by the living? Or perhaps some of these stones were recycled from earlier monuments (O'Kelly 1982). My personal thoughts, are because of the carbon dating and, again, the extreme care that was taken in the construction of this site would rule the recycling line of thinking out. There are some, myself included, that seem to ...
Astronomical applications of the Newgrange passage-grave/tomb is provided.