Ancient history is a fascinating and controversial subject. The authority with which some scholars speak about millennia-old events is misleading and gives laymen the impression that archaeological and textual evidence is plentiful, unambiguous, and precise. This could not be further from the truth. There is very minimal evidence left behind from pre-Bronze Age Civilizations, and the meat of it is only today being uncovered with the help of highly advanced technology such as Lidar, DNA sequencing, and in situ exploration.
An Introduction To Newgrange & Its History
Newgrange is an ancient burial monument in Ireland with mysterious origins. The monument is older than Stonehenge, which itself is about 500-1,000 years older than the first Egyptian pyramid. Visitors can see this fascinating remnant of prehistory firsthand in Leinster Province, Ireland.
- Address: Brú na Bóinne, Donore, County Meath, Ireland
- Directions: Newgrange is located on the rise overlooking River Boyne, about 8 km west of Drogheda
- Distance from Dublin: 47 minutes by car
- Note: Brú na Bóinne is pronounced "Bruna Bonye"
What Is Newgrange?
Newgrange is a megalithic structure. Starting from the outer layer, there is a circle of twelve standing stones, also called menhir or orthostats. These manmade stone structures, common to the middle-Bronze Age, are similar to megaliths and often have ciphers and pictograms carved onto them. The standing stones surrounding Newgrange are said to have been placed well after the central structure was built.
Moving inward, from the center, there are three cruciform chambers in the center, each of them featuring corbelled roofs and large flat stone slab altars. which connects to the outside via a narrow stone passageway. The passageway is lined by orthostats, 21 on one side and 22 on the other. The entrance is ornamented with embedded quartz crystals and cobblestones.
The entire setup, which is 279 ft (85m) wide and 40 ft (12m) tall, is covered by a near-perfectly spherical, circular mound of earth, with grass covering the outer surface. The mound consists of alternating layers of stones and earth, with some human bones sprinkled in for good measure. A layer of stones surrounds the mound, acting as a lowrise, cobbled wall.
There is a box-shaped hole above the entrance. At sunrise on the winter solstice, sunlight floods through the box-shaped hole at the perfect angle, traveling through the passageway and illuminating the cruciform chambers.
The retaining wall and kerbstones are covered in megalithic art, which includes repeating spiral patterns, fractals, and undecipherable proto-writing.
When Was Newgrange Built
According to carbon dating analyses, Newgrange was built around 3,200 B.C, at the cusp of the Bronze Age. This makes Newgrange at least 500 years older than the modern form of Stonehenge, and nearly 600 years older than the first Egyptian pyramid.
- Fun Fact: Stonehenge was allegedly built between 3,000 - 1,500 B.C., while the first Egyptian pyramid was built in 2,630 B.C.
Just how this impressive structure was built so long ago is a mystery. There is a whiggish consensus among some modern city slickers that humans were primitive hunter-gatherers back in those days. This is partially true, as hunter-gatherers did exist back then, and still exist today. However, a complex monument like Newgrange suggests that the people who built it were elevated above the state of nature. They were able to socially organize in such a way that at least a small portion of people could contemplate reality, spending months of excess labor and resources on a project with no direct material benefit.
Who Built Newgrange?
Newgrange was built by neolithic agriculturalists who planted crops and raised cattle in villages and shires surrounding the monument. Not too much is known about this civilization, but judging by the clues left behind in Brú na Bóinne, they certainly believed in the sanctity of the soul. Life in the material world was seemingly organized and guided by actions and rituals to prepare for the afterlife.
Why Was Newgrange Built?
There's no easy answer to the question of why the monument was built. Perhaps the only way to truly find out is to recreate the prehistoric rituals that were conducted in the inner chambers of Newgrange. This would first necessitate the task of deciphering the megalithic "art" found on the encircling stones, entrance, passageway, inner chambers, and basin stones.
Once known, learn to recite the mantras that the ancient peoples might have recited. Be in the inner chamber during the sunrise of the winter solstice. Take the shamanistic psychedelics that the ancients used, pray to their Gods, and recite their mantras and prayers. Evidence suggests that to properly recreate the prehistoric rituals, sacrifices may have been needed -- possibly the burning of bones as well.
With all of these preconditions met, and probably many more, who knows what a person might discover when the sunlight reaches the dark and magically-charged chambers? The true and unfiltered blessing of the supernatural, perhaps?
As a World Heritage Site, Newgrange is open to the public. Unfortunately, the only legal way to explore and research the insides is with a paid-for tour. Visitors can book online at the Brú na Bóinne visitor center.
- Price: Adults: 18 Euro. Seniors, students, and children: 12 Euro
- Note: Photography is NOT permitted inside the monument.