Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of Jul 15th - Jul 21st, 2005

Megalithic Ireland

Columns Archive

      The Boyne River meanders northwest of Dublin past a series of megalithic monuments which for a long time had stood overgrown, lost and forgotten. Folklore and popular legend told tales about them, but their whereabouts were unknown. Yet together with a site some thirty miles distant from this location in the Loughcrew Mountains, these two districts contain the greatest concentration of megalithic art in the known world.

Newgrange from the air

Newgrange from the air

  The Boyne River Valley contains three specific sites called Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, each of which occupies a ridge just north of the river. Radiocarbon dating puts the age of the sites to between 3700 and 3200 BC, some of the oldest chronology for megalithic buildings anywhere in the world. Even phase one at Stonehenge, the fifty six evenly spaced wooden posts placed just inside a circular moat, is currently not dated until approximately 3000 to 3100 BC. Newgrange has been found to be aligned with the position of the rising sun at the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Yet like so many sites in both Europe and the Americas, Newgrange was at first considered to be a giant tomb for the dead. Increasing evidence is showing that the primary function of this and other sites is that they were, in fact, designed for astronomical purposes; to determine specific passages of the Sun, time and the calendar.

Newgrange Sunlight

Newgrange sunlight

  Even after it was recognized that the long passage within the mound at Newgrange admitted a narrow beam of light which illuminated the central chamber at midwinter, archaeologists for decades ignored the evidence, refusing to believe these pre-Celtic peoples could have had the sophistication to develop such highly engineered efforts. One simple testament to their abilities is that many of these sites continue to accurately mark the solstice to this day. A researcher working early in the 19th century wrote 'Such artificial high places are generally situated in an eminence, frequently upon the tops of hills and mountains; and these stations were so chosen as to form a chain of connexion (sic) with each other in such a manner, that on the festival days, the 1st of May and the 1st of November most especially, the fires of Bel (the Sun), were seen from one to the other over the whole country.' Regarding stone circles she related that 'it is thought that they expressed periods of time or astronomical epochs'.

      In fact, the alignments with many of the stones at Newgrange, both inside and outside the 'passage chamber' strongly suggests that the standing stones surrounding the mound and certain key kerbstones were erected as baselines before the mound was built.

      In other words, this is an artifical mound.

      How different from this are the Native American sites which we have been examining around the country, the 'Mound Builders' who created artificial hills in specific locations? They also constructed other sites atop hills which were originally considered to be defensive locations, such as Fort Ancient and Fort Hill in Ohio, but these hypothesizes are now being reconsidered. One of the most impressive sites, after Cahokia in Illinois and Moundville in Alabama, is the Big Horn Medicine Wheel in northern Wyoming, a site which has no defensive fortifications at all, and overlooks a valley some seven thousand feet below. It's vantage point to observe the heavens, and use the surrounding landscape and mountain peaks as markers is breathtaking, as is the climb to get there.

      Around the globe we are seeing the same themes, with the same designs in mind; to use to natural materials of their area to observe, record and predict the motions of heaven in a repeatable manner in order to pass on this information to their people.


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