Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of December 18th - December 24th, 2009

A Page From the Book

Columns Archive


  Now we journey north across cold seas to where the Atlantic wraps his chilly arms around the Emerald Isle. Northwest of Dublin the Boyne River meanders past a series of megalithic monuments time forgot long ago. Folklore offered clues, but knowledge of their whereabouts had been scattered with the quail among the thickets. Together with the nearby Loughcrew Mountains, these manmade temples contain the greatest concentration of megalithic art in the known world.

  More than anywhere.

  The Boyne River Valley consists of three sites: Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, each located on ridges just north of the Boyne. Radiocarbon dating puts their age to between 3700 and 3200 BC, some of the oldest chronology for megalithic buildings in the world. Newgrange has been shown to align with the rising Sun on the Winter Solstice. Yet like so many earthen mounds in both Europe and the Americas, these sites were thought to be giant tombs for the dead. Increasing evidence suggests the primary function was for astronomical purposes; to better understand our place in the world and the wheelings of heaven above.

  Even after it was recognized the long passage within the mound at Newgrange admitted a narrow beam of light which illuminated the central chamber at midwinter, some have resisted both the astronomical evidence and folk tales, refusing to believe these pre-Celtic peoples were capable of such sophisticated efforts. One simple testimony to their abilities is that many of these sites continue to accurately mark the seasonal ingress to this day.

Newgrange Solstice

Newgrange Solstice
Comin' down the line...

  No one knows when the first staff was used to cast a shadow to observe the sun’s passage through the sky, but these Irish sites use both sunlight and shadow to determine the Solstices and Equinoxes. It's even possible these chambers may contain some of the oldest known writing in the world.

 When Jack Roberts and Martin Brennan set out in 1980 to verify that most of the mounds in the Boyne Valley complex were aligned to the rising or setting positions of the Sun at critical times of the year, they were delighted to discover that beams of light crafted by forgotten builders cascaded into the inner chamber and illuminated specific images carved in stone, as if “spelling out messages in an archaic code.”

 Analysis of one of the greatest collections of megalithic art in the world revealed a preoccupation with solar and lunar symbolism.

 As Mr. Brennan suggests, if one were to enter a church, one would expect to find religious themes and artwork depicted there. In similar fashion, if one enters a site devoted to astronomical observation, one might not be surprised to find artwork depicting what is in the sky.

 The simplicity of this analysis is further confirmed on the solstices and equinoxes when carved solar symbols, the same used by astronomers today, are illuminated by carefully crafted beams of Sunlight, entering deep into artificially constructed tunnels, falling on stone slabs at the innermost chamber recesses.

 Designed by megalithic man, the light of their wisdom is annually illuminated by the rays of the Sun in a continuing ritual.


to top of page