Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Newgrange, Knowth & Dowth

Today we visited the Bru na Boinne Visitors Centre bordered on three sides by the River Boyne and contains the passage tomb cemeteries at Knowth, Dowth & Newgrange. The valley of Boyne River is sacred to Buand goddess of healing and feminine wisdom. Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre interprets the Neolithic monuments and it is from here that shuttle buses take you to Newgrange and Knowth.

Our view of Newgrange from the visitors center.
We went to Knowth first at the western end of Bru na Boinne. The great mound is outlined by 127 massive kerb stones. Arranged around this are 19 smaller or satellite tombs, at least two of which were built before the great mound. 

Dating from about 3000 BC, especially important for its rich collection of megalithic art, which includes over 300 decorated stones. The central great mound, which measures 80m by 95m in size and is outlined by 127 massive kerb stones, many of them decorated with carvings. Inside the great mound are two passage tombs, one facing directly west and the other directly east. The two do not meet, but terminate very close together at the centre of the mound. Both passages are lined with decoratively carved stones known as orthostats. These are not accessible to visitors, but the eastern passage can be glimpsed from an excavated chamber. The eastern passage ends in a cruciform (+-shaped) chamber similar to that at Newgrange. It contains a stone basin of uncertain purpose and is richly decorated with carved spirals and other designs. The western passage terminates in a small tomb area, with no side niches. Just east of the eastern passage is a timber circle or "woodhenge" that was constructed between 2800 and 2500 BC. The logs that stand today are of course not the originals, but a reconstruction using the post-holes that were discovered fairly recently. 

We crossed the River Boyne to catch the shuttle buses to the monument.

Both of the Knowth passages have standing stones outside them, which cast shadows on their respective entrance stones around the equinoxes. The entrance stones have vertical marks engraved on them as with Kerb Stones 1 and 52 at Newgrange. The entrances to both large passages were extensively disturbed in the Iron Age when the mound was fortified, so we don't know if there were any roofbox structures, or other astronomical features. The blocking of the entrance to the east passage, during the OPW conservation and reconstruction, with a slab of concrete makes it impossible to visually check any alignment with the equinox.

The entrance to the Knowth tomb the sun hits the phallic standing stone and shines directly on the centre line of the threshold stone. 

The Threshold Stone

The inside of the Phallic Standing Stone is polished smooth for which reason nobody is sure

Wooden Henge

The large circular area in front of the Phallic Stone is thought to be for holding water to cleanse prior to entering the tomb

Knowth alone has about 45% of all the art known from Irish tombs and over 1/4 of all the megalithic art in Europe.

We then toured the Megalithic Passage Tomb of Newgrange was built about 3200 BC. The kidney shaped mound covers an area of over one acre and is surrounded by 97 kerbstones, some of which are richly decorated with megalithic art, the most impressive of which is the entrance stone. The 19 metre long inner passage leads to a cruciform chamber with a corbelled roof. It is estimated that the construction of the Passage Tomb at Newgrange would have taken a work force of 300 at least 20 years. The passage and chamber of Newgrange are illuminated by the winter solstice sunrise. A shaft of sunlight shines through the roof box over the entrance and penetrates the passage to light up the chamber. The dramatic event lasts for 17 minutes at dawn on the Winter Solstice and for a few mornings either side of the Winter Solstice. Megalithic mounds such as Newgrange entered Irish mythology as sídhe or fairy mounds. Newgrange was said to be the home of Oenghus, the god of love. The Passage Tomb at Newgrange was re-discovered in 1699 by the removal of material for road building. A major excavation of Newgrange began in 1962, the original facade of sparkling white quartz was rebuilt using stone found at the site. Twelve Standing Stones survive of what may have been an arc at the front of the mound or possibly a complete circle of about 35 stones surrounding the mound. Inside the chamber there is a tri-spiral design on which is probably the most famous Irish Megalithic symbol. It is often referred to as a Celtic design, but it was carved at least 2500 years before the Celts reached Ireland. At 12 inches in diameter the tri-spiral design is quite small in size, less than one-third the size of the tri-spiral design on the entrance stone. Newgrange is a sacred goddess temple with beautiful carvings of triple spirals representing the maiden, mother and crone.

The cap stone above the entrance is roughly at my head height however when you walk up the chamber of the tomb you walk up approximately 2 meters making the ground you stand on at the end of the chamber the same height

The entrance of the sun on Winter Solstice sunrise
Whilst in the tomb the lights were turned off and electronic simulation of the sun entering the tomb on Winter Solstice sunrise was done, which was just the most amazing experience even if not at the full glory that the sun would create of making the tomb stones golden. With the amount of rain in Ireland I would think that you would have to be very lucky to have a cloud free sunrise on the day of the solstice to experience this in person.

Our last visit of the day was to Dowth. Dowth is the least known of the three great passage tombs at Bru na Boinne. It is surrounded by a kerb of 115 stones and has two tombs facing westward. There are smaller satellite tombs to the east and southwest of the large mound. This tomb has not been excavated in recent times and you make your own way to this mound.

View of Newgrange from Dowth

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