Mound and passage tomb[ edit ] Cross section sketch of the passage The Newgrange monument primarily consists of 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.
Within the mound is a chambered passage, which may be accessed by an entrance on the southeastern side of the monument. 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" where the bones of the dead may have been deposited during prehistoric times.
Whether it was a burial site remains unclear. The walls of this passage are made up of large stone slabs, twenty-two of which are on the western side and twenty-one on the eastern side.
The ceiling shows no evidence of smoke. The entrance passage to Newgrange, and the entrance stone Situated around the perimeter of the mound is a circle of standing stones. Twelve standing-stones survive out of a possible original thirty-five or thereabouts.
Most archaeologists suggest that they were added later, during the Bronze Age , centuries after the original monument had been abandoned as a ritual centre. Megalithic art on one of the kerbstones The retaining wall and kerbstones Newgrange contains various examples of graphic Neolithic rock art carved onto its stone surfaces. They are marked by wide differences in style, the skill-level needed to produce them, and on how deeply carved they are.
It is approximately three metres long and 1. It has been described as "one of the most famous stones in the entire repertory of megalithic art. O'Kelly who led the — excavation at the site , believed them to have some sort of symbolic purpose, because some of the carvings had been in places that would not have been visible, such as at the bottom of the orthostatic slabs below ground level.
History[ edit ] The Neolithic people who built the monument were native agriculturalists, growing crops and raising animals such as cattle in the area where their settlements were located.
Construction and burials[ edit ] The original complex of Newgrange was built between c. There is a large pond in this area that is believed to be the site quarried for the pebbles by the builders of Newgrange. This estimate, however, was criticised by Michael. O'Kelly and his archaeological team, who believed that it would have taken a minimum of thirty years to build.
From examining the unburnt bone, it was shown to come from at least two separate individuals, but much of their skeletons was missing, and what was left had been scattered about the passage. Excavations that took place in the late s and early s revealed seven 'marbles', four pendants, two beads, a used flint flake, a bone chisel, and fragments of bone pins and points. Nonetheless, sometimes these were recorded and it is believed that the grave goods that came from Newgrange were typical of Neolithic Irish passage grave assemblages.
Most of these animals would have entered and died in the chamber many centuries or even millennia after it was constructed: In the Late Neolithic, it appears that Newgrange was no longer being used by the local population, who did not leave any artefacts in the structure or bury their dead there.
As the archaeologist Michael J. O'Kelly stated, "by [BC] Newgrange was in decay and squatters were living around its collapsing edge". The eastern timber circle consisted of five concentric rows of pits. The outer row contained wooden posts. The next row of pits had clay linings and was used to burn animal remains. The three inner rows of pits were dug to accept the animal remains. Within the circle were post and stake holes associated with Beaker pottery and flint flakes.
A free-standing circle of large stones was raised around the Newgrange mound. Near the entrance, seventeen hearths were used to set fires. Among various objects later deposited around the mound are two pendants made from gold Roman coins of — AD now in the National Museum of Ireland and Roman gold jewellery including two bracelets, two finger rings, and a necklace, now in the collections of the British Museum.
Many archaeologists believed that the monument had religious significance of some sort or another, either as a place of worship for a "cult of the dead" or for an astronomically-based faith. The archaeologist Michael J. O'Kelly , who led the — excavations at the site, believed that the monument had to be seen in relation to the nearby Knowth and Dowth , and that the building of Newgrange "cannot be regarded as other than the expression of some kind of powerful force or motivation, brought to the extremes of aggrandizement in these three monuments, the cathedrals of the megalithic religion.
He believed that this "cult of the dead" was just one particular form of European Neolithic religion, and that other megalithic monuments displayed evidence for different religious beliefs that were solar-oriented, rather than ancestor-oriented. It is speculated that the sun formed an important part of the religious beliefs of the Neolithic people who built it. One idea was that the room was designed for a ritualistic capturing of sun rays on the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice , as the room gets flooded with sunlight, which might have signaled that the days would start to get longer again.
This view is strengthened by the discovery of alignments in Knowth , Dowth , and the Lough Crew Cairns leading to the interpretation of these monuments as calendrical or astronomical devices. Formerly, the Newgrange mound was encircled by an outer ring of immense standing stones, of which twelve of a possible thirty-seven remain. Evidence from carbon dating suggests that the stone circle which encircled Newgrange may not be contemporary with the monument however, but was placed there some 1, years later in the Bronze Age.
This view is disputed and relates to a carbon date from a standing stone setting that intersects with a later timber post circle, the theory being, that the stone in question could have been moved and later, re-set in its original position.
This research implies a continuity of use of Newgrange of over a thousand years; with partial remains found from only five individuals, some question the tomb theory for its purpose. This illumination lasts for approximately 17 minutes. O'Kelly was the first person in modern times to observe this event on 21 December Although solar alignments are not uncommon among passage graves, Newgrange is one of few to contain the additional roofbox feature.
Today the first light enters about four minutes after sunrise, but calculations based on the precession of the Earth show that 5, years ago, first light would have entered exactly at sunrise. These farms were referred to as 'granges'. Newgrange is not mentioned in any of the early charters of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, but an Inspeximus granted by Edward III in includes a Nova Grangia among the demesne lands of the abbey.
The labourers soon discovered the entrance to the tomb within the mound, and a Welsh antiquarian named Edward Lhwyd , who was staying in the area, was alerted and took an interest in the monument. He wrote an account of the mound and its tomb, describing what he saw as its "barbarous sculpture" and noting that animal bones, beads, and pieces of glass had been found inside of it modern archaeologists have speculated that these latter two were in fact the polished pottery beads that subsequently, have been found at the site and that were a common feature of Neolithic tombs.
He talked to Charles Campbell, who informed him that he had found the remains of two human corpses in the tomb, one which was male , in one of the cisterns, and another farther along the passageway, something that Lhwyd had not noted. Thomas Pownall conducted a very detailed survey of New Grange in ,  which numbers all the stones and also records some of the carvings on the stone and asserted that the mound originally had been taller and a lot of the stone on top of it had been removed, a theory that has been disproven by archaeological research.
The folly, with two circular windows, was made of stones taken from Newgrange. In , under the Ancient Monuments Protection Act, Newgrange and the nearby monuments of Knowth and Dowth were taken under the control of the state United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, as it was then known , and they were placed under the responsibility of the Board of Public Works.
In , under the leadership of Thomas Newenham Deane , the board began a project of conservation of the monument, which had been damaged through general deterioration over the previous three millennia as well as the increasing vandalism caused by visitors, some of whom had inscribed their names on the stones.
O'Kelly and published in by Thames and Hudson as Newgrange: Archaeology, Art and Legend. Based on the positions of the cobblestones, and after conducting experiments, O'Kelly concluded that they had made up a retaining wall , but had fallen from the face of the mound. As part of the restoration, this wall was 'rebuilt' and the cobblestones were fixed into a near-vertical steel- reinforced concrete wall surrounding the front of the mound.
This work is controversial among the archaeological community. Griot described the monument as looking like a "cream cheese cake with dried currants distributed about. This theory was preferred at nearby Knowth , where the restorers laid the quartz stones out as an "apron" in front of the entrance to the great mound.
The inward-curving dark stone walls on each side of the entrance are not original, nor are they intended to suggest Newgrange's original appearance, but were designed solely to facilitate visitor access. A visitor guide book to the site, however, has a reconstruction drawing depicting Neolithic inhabitants using Newgrange that shows the modern entrance as if it were part of Newgrange's original appearance.
The interpretive centre is located on the south bank of the river and Newgrange is located on the north side of the river. Access is only from the interpretive centre. Access to Newgrange is by guided tour only. Current-day visitors to Newgrange are treated to a guided tour and an re-enactment of the Winter Solstice experience through the use of high-powered electric lights situated within the tomb.
The finale of a Newgrange tour results in every visitor standing inside the tomb where the tour guide then turns off the lights, and then turns on ones simulating the sunlight that would appear on the winter solstice. Of the thousands who enter, twenty are chosen each year. The winner is permitted to bring a single guest.
The winners are split into groups of ten and taken in on the five days around the solstice in December when sunlight can enter the chamber, weather permitting.