Newgrange is a passage tomb of the   Brú na Bóinne  complex in County Meath, Ireland. It is one of the most famous prehistoric sites in the world, and indeed the most famous of all Irish prehistoric sites. Newgrange was built in such a way that at dawn on the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, a narrow beam of sunlight for a very short time illuminates the floor of the chamber at the end of the long passageway.

      The massive complex of Newgrange was originally built between c. 3100 and 2900 BC, meaning that it is approximately 5,000 years old. According to Carbon-14 dates, it is more than 500 years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, and predates Stonehenge by about 1,000 years. In the Neolithic period, Newgrange continued as a focus of some ceremonial activity. New monuments added to the site included a timber circle to the south-east of the main mound and a smaller timber circle to the west.

      The eastern timber circle consisted of five concentric rows of pits. The outer row contained wooden posts. The next row of pits had clay linings and was used to burn animal remains. The three inner rows of pits were dug to accept the animal remains. Within the circle were post and stake holes associated with Beaker pottery and flint flakes. The western timber circle consisted of two concentric rows of parallel postholes and pits defining a circle 20 m in diameter. A concentric mound of clay was constructed around the southern and western sides of the mound and covered a structure consisting of two parallel lines of post and ditches that had been partly burnt. A free-standing circle of large stones was constructed encircling the mound. Near the entrance, 17 hearths were used to set fires. These structures at Newgrange are generally contemporary with a number of Henges known from the Boyne Valley, at Newgrange Site A, Newgrange Site O, Dowth Henge and Monknewtown Henge.

      Once a year, at the winter solstice, the rising sun shines directly along the long passage into the chamber for about 17 minutes and illuminates the chamber floor. This alignment is too precise to be widely considered to be formed by chance. Professor M. J. O'Kelly was the first person in modern times to observe this event on December 21, 1967. The sun enters the passage through a specially contrived opening, known as a roofbox, directly above the main entrance. Although solar alignments are not uncommon among passage graves, Newgrange is one of few to contain the additional roofbox feature ( Cairn G at Carrowkeel Megalithic Cemetery is another). The alignment is such that although the roofbox is above the passage entrance, the light hits the floor of the inner chamber. Today the first light enters about four minutes after sunrise, but calculations based on the precession of the Earth show that 5,000 years ago first light would have entered exactly at sunrise.

      The prevailing consensus among Irish archaeology is that Newgrange appears to have been used as a tomb. The recesses in the cruciform chamber hold large stone basins into which were placed cremated human remains. During excavation, the partial remains from five individuals were found, this is offered as evidence of the tomb theory. However studies in other fields of expertise offer alternative interpretations of the possible functions, which principally centre on the astronomy, engineering, geometry and mythology associated with the Boyne monuments. It is speculated that the sun formed an important part of the religious beliefs of the neolithic ("New" Stone Age) people who built it. This view is strengthened by the discovery of alignments in Knowth, Dowth and the Lough Crew Cairns leading to the interpretation of these monuments as calendrical or astronomical devices.


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