Newgrange is unhesitatingly regarded by the
prehistorian as the great national monument of Ireland; in the words of the
late Sean Ó Riordáin, 'one of the most important ancient places in
Europe'. Its special importance has been widely realized since the early
description by Edward Lhwyd in 1699, and each generation finds in it
something new and interesting. The widespread realization in recent years
that the very early 'megalithic' architecture of western Europe is
something notably and essentially European, owing little or nothing to the
Near East, has only served to heighten our admiration for some of these
great and early constructions, of which Newgrange is undoubtedly one of the very finest.
Foreword by Colin Renfew
Our own generation has been particularly fortunate that, since 1962,
this important site has been the subject of investigation by Professor
O'Kelly, ably assisted by his wife Claire. To them we are indebted for a
number of important discoveries and conclusions which are set out in full
here. Indeed in the face of so much new information, it is interesting to
look back to the pessimism which prevailed nearly two centuries ago,
to the gloomy view that very little could ever be known about it. In his
Tour in Ireland, published in 1807, the distinguished English antiquary,
Sir Richard Colt Hoare, wrote of Newgrange:
I shall not unnecessarily trespass upon the time and patience of my
readers in endeavouring to ascertain what tribes first peopled this
country, nor to what nation the construction of this singular monument may
reasonably be attributed for, I fear, both its authors and its original
destination will ever remain unknown. Conjecture may wonder over its wild
and spacious domains but will never bring home with it either truth or
conviction. Alike will the histories of those stupendous temples at Avebury
and Stonehenge which grace my native country, remain involved in
obscurity and oblivion.
Now we know so very much more. In the first place, as reported here, the
mound and its contents have been reliably dated. The 'uncorrected'
radiocarbon date of around 2500 bc must be the equivalent, after the
calibration of the radiocarbon time scale (using the corrections afforded
by tree-ring dating), of a date in calendar years of about 3200 Be. There
can be no doubt, therefore, that Newgrange is older than Stonehenge, older
than Avebury, and indeed older by several centuries than the pyramids of Egypt.
This early construction highlights still further the great fascination
of the carved stone decoration of the Boyne tombs, and of Newgrange itself.
Mrs O'Kelly's corpus of the art from this site makes an important
contribution here. The precise purpose of this decoration is still a matter
for discussion, and great interest was aroused by Professor O'Kelly's
discovery that some of the stones were decorated on surfaces which could
never have been visible to the visitor to the tomb: their secret was
revealed only in the course of excavation and restoration work. Here the
case is convincingly argued that these stones were not re-used from some
earlier monument. Moreover the care with which the construction was planned
and executed does not support the view that these carved surfaces were
obscured by accident or by the incompetence of the builders. Was this
hidden carving then the consequence of some secret piety of its makers,
invisible to mortal eyes, but present nonetheless for eternity?
The most remarkable discovery reported here came about unexpectedly in
1963, when the investigation of a seemingly anomalous slab led to the
recognition of the 'roof-box', a carefully constructed aperture above the
entrance. It is so situated that at midwinter's day the rays of the rising
sun penetrate the full length of the entrance passage, and reach into the
chamber itself. Whatever one's scepticism for some of the claims made on
behalf of 'megalithic astronomy' or of 'astroarchaeology', it is difficult
not to see this as a deliberate and successful attempt to incorporate the
midwinter sunrise as a significant element in the planning and use of the
monument. This arrangement constitutes one of the very earliest
astronomical, or rather solar, alignments ever recorded, earlier by far
than those of Stonehenge and the other British
stone circles and standing stones. It still works today, despite the small
changes over the millennia in the earth's position relative to the sun, and
according to Professor O'Kelly will continue to do so as long as Newgrange continues to stand.
This volume constitutes the final and definitive report of these
excavations and researches, with studies by a number of specialists given
as appendices. But it has turned into something very much more than simply
an excavation report: into a review of the history of research at
Newgrange, a survey of its place in prehistory, and a corpus of the
remarkable carvings which embellish the stones of this 'cathedral of the megalithic religion'.
As discussed in chapter 12, former generations held that Newgrange, and
those other great monuments of the Boyne valley,
and Dowth, were the work of colonist-builders,
representing the end of a line of devolution which had begun in the
Mediterranean world, starting perhaps with the impressive stone tombs of
Mycenae. Now we know that it is older by far than these Aegean comparisons,
and that Newgrange is not the work of immigrants already greatly skilled in
architecture, but instead the product of a more local evolution, from
simple to complex. Some at least of the questions so pessimistically posed
in 1807 by Colt Hoare can now be answered, and we can
instead share the view of another early antiquary, George Petrie, and, on
the basis of the careful researches reported here, with him agree 'to allow
the ancient Irish the honour of erecting a work of such vast labour and grandeur'.
Early Ireland - An Introduction to Irish Prehistory by Michael J. O'Kelly
Early Ireland offers an
authoritative introduction to the riches of Irish prehistory - a span of
eight thousand years from the end of the Ice Age to the first centuries of
the Christian era.
The book provides a clear account of the development of Irish
society from its beginnings as a postglacial culture of hunters and
gatherers, through the glory of its golden age in the second millennium BC,
to the technological advances stimulated by the discovery of iron and, in
the last centuries BC, the growth of a Celtic art style of unrivalled power
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Boyne Valley Tours
Private Tour with pick up and return to your accommodation.
Newgrange World Heritage site, the 10th century High Crosses at Monasterboice,
Hill of Tara the seat of the High Kings, Hill of Tara the seat of the High Kings and the Hill of Slane where St. Patrick let a Paschal fire in 433 More ...