Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Explore Ancient Ireland: Newgrange

Imagine going back 5000 years to 3200 BC and being one of the 300 people to spend 20 years building the Newgrange passage tomb. Predating Stonehenge by over 1000 years, Newgrange is one monument within the Neolithic Bru na Boinne complex.

The Bru na Boinne complex is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is the largest prehistoric megalithic sites in Europe. The site is often referred to as the “Bend of the Boyne” as it sits within a large bend in the Boyne River. With over 40 examples of Neolithic chamber tombs, standing stone, henges and other prehistoric enclosures all dating back to the 35th and 32nd century BC, Newgrange and its two similar passage tombs: Knowth and Dowth are the most famous sites in the Bru na Boinne complex.

The Newgrange monument primarily comprises a large mound, built of alternating layers of earth and stones, with grass growing on top and a reconstructed facade of flattish white quartz stones studded at intervals with large rounded cobbles covering part of the circumference. The mound is 250 ft in diameter and 40 ft in height. Within the mound is a chambered passage, which can be accessed by an entrance on the south-eastern side of the monument. The passage stretches for 60 ft, or about a third of the way through into the center of the structure. At the end of the passage are three small chambers off a larger central chamber, with a high corbelled vault roof. Each of the smaller chambers has a large flat "basin stone", which was where the bones of the dead were possibly originally deposited, although whether it was actually a burial site remains unclear.

In fact, the purpose of the Newgrange site remains unclear. Many archaeologists have believed that the monument had religious significance of some sort of another, either as a place of worship for a "cult of the dead" or for an astronomically-based faith.

Newgrange contains various examples of abstract Neolithic rock art carved onto it which provide decoration. One of the most notable examples of art at Newgrange is the triskele-like features found on the entrance stone, which has been described as "one of the most famous stones in the entire repertory of megalithic art."

Explore ancient Ireland with Celtic Tours on your next self-drive tour of Ireland. One of our most popular Irish self-drive vacations is our Endless Possibilities tour.

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