Newgrange is a Stone Age (Neolithic) monument in the Boyne Valley, County Meath. Constructed about 5,200 years ago (3,200 B.C.) Newgrange is older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza. It is the jewel in the crown of Ireland's Ancient East.
The monument is classified as a passage tomb, and along with Knowth, Dowth, and their satellite tombs is part of an area known as Brú na Bóinne, which translates to the Bend in the Boyne. This is an area of incredibly fertile soil and is equally rich in archaeological monuments. It is located in County Meath between Slane and Drogheda.
Newgrange was excavated over the course of 14 years by UCC's Prof. Michael J. O'Kelly and his wife Claire. Their incredibly detailed excavations pushed the accepted date of construction back by a thousand years.
The monument itself consists of a mound, roughly circular in shape and measuring 85 metres in diameter. It is surrounded by kerbstones, some of which bear carved decorations, with the most highly decorated being the entrance stone, and kerbstone 52. The entrance stone, as the name suggests, marks the entrance to the passage. The passage is about 24 metres long and ends in three chambers in a cruciform shape. The chambers contained human remains.
The most remarkable feature of Newgrange is undoubtedly the roof box. This is a gap above the entrance which allows the dawn light to enter the tomb, lighting up the entire passage and chamber on the morning of the Winter Solstice (December 21st). Local tradition had long held a rumour that there was a day in the calendar when this would occur, though nobody could say for certain when it was. In 1967, Prof. O'Kelly decided that based on the orientation of the roof box, the most likely date would be the Winter Solstice. It is incredible to think that as he sat in the tomb in the pre-dawn darkness with his daughter, he was about to become the first person in thousands of years to witness the phenomenon.
Today attendance at the Solstice dawn is by lottery, however in recent years a live stream has allowed people all over the world to experience this magical feat of pre-historic astronomical engineering.
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