To the north of Dublin, halfway to the border with Northern Ireland and between the bends of the River Boyne, stands one of the most impressive structures of the European Stone Age: Newgrange.
Newgrange is one of the elements of the Brú na Bóinne archaeological complex. This complex is recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, for being the “Most important example of a prehistoric megalithic complex in Europe”.
The structure itself is roughly circular (could also say heart-shaped or kidney-shaped). Its diameter measures about 90 meters and rises more than 12 meters. It is a huge mound raised with stones and covered with peat, covered with grass.
Most of the stones with which it was built came from nearby, although archaeologists discovered a few that would have had a more distant origin. To lift it, a whopping 200,000 tons of stone was used. Around the structure you can find a ring of 37 huge rocks, which are believed to be more modern than the structure, although they also have their origin in prehistory.
The structure has an entrance that leads, through a corridor of about 20 meters, to a central chamber. On each of the three remaining sides of the room, an opening can be seen, a kind of niche, similar to a chapel or apse, where those who explored the monument found cremated human remains.
Its function remains a mystery. It is believed that the human remains belonged to aristocrats or prehistoric rulers, but in reality it is not known for sure what exactly is the reason for the construction. But there is some data that we do have.
One of them is your age. The structure was erected in approximately 3200 BC. That is, more than half a century before the pyramids of Giza and about 700 years before the construction of Stonehenge.
One more thing we know about the structure is a likely clue to its purpose. For years it was considered to be a simple funerary structure, until archaeologists noticed a curious phenomenon. At the dawn of the winter solstice, a beam of light aligns with the passageway of the structure so that sunlight illuminates the interior of the structure for about 17 minutes.
Whoever built the structure, the first known civilization in its surroundings is that of the Celts. These arrived in Ireland about 2,500 years ago, more than two millennia after the monument was built. These left their mark on the structure through their own decorations.
Newgrange became part of the Celtic culture. Local legend tells that inside this burial mound are the legendary kings of Tara. The Hill of Tara, situated not far from Newgrange, was the traditional coronation site of the kings of Ireland.
Recovery of an archaeological treasure.
After the passage of the Celts the site was abandoned. It was in the year 1622 when the structure was rediscovered by a group of workers from the region. It would not be until well into the 20th century that professional archaeologists began scientific exploration of the site.
In 1962, a group of researchers from the University of Cork led by Michael J. O’Kelly began archaeological work that would take more than a decade. Thanks to her we know this monument, despite the fact that for now there are more doubts than certainties that we have about what could well be considered the masterpiece of the European Neolithic.
Image | tjp finn. CC BY-SA 4.0.