Only 25 miles from Dublin….

Is one of the world’s most important archeological landscapes.  It is important because man has been in this area for close to 6,000 years.  Can you imagine?  I cannot begin to fathom that they have found items made by humans over 6,000 years ago!  This area is called Brú na Bóinne and is also known as the Boyne Valley where the River Boyne flows.

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This is an example of megalithic art.  During this period, art was used for decoration and also, for a form of symbolic writing. 

This region is famous for the early human settlement, the largest examples of megalithic art which is art carved into large stones from the prehistoric time, such as the Neolithic (New Stone Age) era into the Bronze age.  Another claim to fame for Brú na Bóinne is the incredible passage tombs.  A passage tomb is a narrow passageway that opens into a chamber or chambers used for burial and is covered by earth or stones.

6,500 years ago, the Neolithic Age brought the new concept of farming to the Boyne Valley, which was the most fertile valley in the country.  With farming came settlements of  houses and ceremonial passage tombs.  Prior to the Neolithic Age, the humans moved frequently to follow the animals for hunting and gathering of food.

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An example of shelter that humans lived in 6,000 years ago

What makes this area one of the world’s most important archeological places are the three large passage tombs – Knowth, Newgrange and Doth.  These tombs were built over 5,000 years ago during the Neolithic or Late Stone Age.

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Newgrange Passage Tomb is 93 yards (85 meters) in diameter and 15 yards (13.5 meters) high.  The facade of white quartz was reconstructed by an archeologist. He believed this is what the original tomb looked like.  It was the belief that quartz was related to the sun as it “captured” the sunlight.

Of the three of these, Newgrange is the best known Irish passage tomb. Newgrange was built in 3200 BC, which makes it 600 years older than the Egyptian pyramids and 1,000 years older than Stonehenge in England. It just blows my mind that I was inside of something built so long ago!  Some people refer to Newgrange as an ancient temple comparing it to cathedrals of today.  It was a place used for astrology, spiritual and religious ceremonies as well as a tomb.  There is evidence that people and possibly animals were indeed buried inside.  How many is unknown as they had been cremated and also, the tomb had been tampered with before an official archeological study was carried out.

Before they began building Newgrange, they had to study the sun to align the passage properly for the winter solstice.  It is speculated that they did this alignment with timber post.

It is estimated that it took up to 15 years to build the Newgrange Passage tomb.  Along with the alignment of the passage with the sun, they had to quarry and move the stones that were approximately 1.85 miles or 3 kilometers away.

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This was a display in the education center showing how they moved the large, heavy stones from so far away.

The visitor’s center had a wonderful display of how Newgrange was built as well as how the people from the Neolithic Age lived.  The stones were quarried and ranged from 2 to 4 tons.  The two ton stones were carried by men with rope slings.  The heavier stones were rolled over wooden rollers with ropes made from leather or fiber.  It would take 80 men four days to roll a 4 ton stone.

This photos show you the entrance to the passage tomb.  The wooden stairs were built so visitors wouldn’t have to climb over the megalith that is placed in front of the entrance.  The entrance is very low.  I am 5’3″ (appx 1.6 meters) and I had to duck so not to hit my head.  The opening above the stone slab is for the sun to shine in on the winter solstice.img_2400

Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside.  I did take a couple of pictures off of the internet to give you a visual of what I am trying to describe.

It is a narrow passageway built with stones on the sides and the ceiling.  They were placed with timbers that were used for bracing and support.  The laborers used tools crafted from antlers for pickaxes and for shovels, they  used the shoulder blade from a cow.  The whole building process was overseen by a social or religious leader who had knowledge of architecture, megalithic art and astronomy.

The length of the passageway is 21 yards (19 meters).  At the end, it opens into a chamber with a dome ceiling made of stones that are strategically placed so no use of anything like cement was used to hold the stones in place.  The stones are estimated to weigh 200,000 tons and are supported by the 97 curb stones at the base of the mound.

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Example of the curb stones used to support the dome.

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Some of the curb stones were decorated.

To this day, 5,000 years later, the chamber has been watertight and intact with no repairs or reconstruction.  Think about what today’s construction is like and whether or not you think a building would last 5,000 years like Newgrange.  Sad to say, but probably not!

There are three other chambers stemming from this main domed chamber.  So, if you were to look down on the mound with the “top” off, it would resemble a cross.  It was in these chambers that stone basins were placed on the floor to hold the cremated remains of the people and animals that I mentioned earlier.  The chamber to the east is the most ornate and decorated possibly to honor the sunrise in the east.

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Inside the chamber. Credit for this photo goes to Meathheritage.com

 

As I mentioned earlier, the opening above the entrance is to capture the light from the sunrise during the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.  While we were inside of the chamber, they demonstrated what it would be like.  There is actually a lottery for people to enter to be able to experience the real event.

Around December 21st, at sunrise, a narrow beam of light reaches through the opening and crawls along the floor toward the chamber.  As the sun rises higher, the beam widens and the chamber is lit-up with sunlight.  The whole event begins around 9:00 AM and last 17 minutes.  The purpose of capturing the sunlight on the shortest day was possibly to mark the beginning of the new year and also, symbolically that life is renewed.

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Credit for this photo is from the Newgrange Pinterest page.

It must be remarkable to see.  I did put my name in the lottery.  I wonder if it was actually chosen, if I would make the trip.  There is no guarantee that on the winter solstice that the sun will shine in Ireland!  I cannot imagine spending the money for the flight, the stay in Dublin and then arranging to go to Newgrange to see the sunlight only for it to possibly be a rainy or cloudy day!  Goodness!

I love the education that one receives from traveling.  Before my tour of Newgrange, I had no idea that passage tombs existed or even what they were.  Now, I know and also, there are passage tombs around the world.  More can be found in Scandinavia,  northern Germany, Netherlands, Indonesia, Spain, Portugal and along the north coast of Africa.  Now that I have a this knowledge, I will keep an eye out to visit more in my travels.

 

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