Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall at sunset

Friday, September 25, 2009

Newgrange

Newgrange is a famous megalithic tomb or passage grave in County Meath, Ireland. Opinions differ as to its age - some say 3200 BC, other 5000 BC. Either way, it's older than Stonehenge by a 1000 years, and predates the pyramids in Egypt.

This is the entrance to Newgrange. Those large rocks are called kerbstones, and they are decorated by carvings in the stones. Below is a close-up of a figure called a "triskelion", composed of three interlocking spirals.

Below is a photo of one of several stone bowls inside Newgrange, probably used to hold the bones of the departed. In my first book, Ciara's Tale, my character Ciara hides inside a tomb at the Loughcrew mountain complex, and she crouches down into a bowl like this one.

The interior of Newgrange is cruciform in shape, the main passage leading off to three side passages, one of which is shown below.

But Newgrange wasn't used only for religious and funeral purposes. It also marked the winter solstice. In ancient times, people awaited the return of the sun and the longer days of summer with great anticipation. Winter was hard and cold, and many people didn't survive until the spring.

Each year the winter solstice takes place around December 19th to the 23rd. On those days, a beam of light from the rising sun at dawn would enter the roofbox over the main lintel at the entrance to the tomb and travel down the dark corridor.

It would pierce through the darkness and light up the back wall of the central chamber for 17 minutes. The people would know then that the they had reached the middle of winter and the shortest day of the year. Spring would come again.

In our modern age today it is hard to fathom what it must have been like for these ancient people. No calendars or clocks, just endless dark cold winter days. How amazing it must have been to stand inside this dark place and watch the sunbeam move down the dark corridor.

If you are interested in seeing a video clip recreation of an ancient solstice, you can go to

2 comments:

  1. What was life like back around 3200 BC? Kick ass! Think about it: no electronics, no pollution, no traffic, no major outbreaks of sickness, no unnecessary distractions to take your mind off of the one important thing. Survival. And breathing. I really like breathing. It is the one activity I look forward to every other moment of each day. Without question.

    Let's see... no electronics mean no wasted time on tv or cable shows that show us nothing. Lack of pollution would allow an unrivaled observation of the heavens. No background light, no noise pollution. Just you and the abyss. No daily commute or some nutcase cutting you off in traffic just so they can then quickly brake in front of you just as they miss the turn they wanted to take. Then you have natural geography that prevents major diseases from taking out your populace. No airplanes or quick world travel means that strain of HG12BBE dies out in the Adriatic Sea where it had originally mutated and previously threatened the 24,005 local residents. Of whom most survived.

    Just you, your original family, maybe your extended new family (thanks to your spouse) some farm animals, simple and effective tools, a gold standard, and some new 'urban project' to take your mind off of everthing previously listed in this paragraph.

    Think about it... "Caleb, hello old friend. How are you today?" "Aye, well met Guinness. As well as could be expected. 'er now. I've heard there's a call out for able lads to help build some grand construct. The cheiftain wants to call it 'Stonehenge'" "Indeed, I've see the tablet. Says 'ere lads would be paid 1 silver piece per week to move stones from the quarry to the construction site 24 miles away. They say it's a 70 year contract." "Well, then let's sign up lad. At the least it would get me away from my banshee of a wife. Always yellin' she is."

    And so Caleb and Guinness join up to help build what we now know as Stonehenge, or any of the other ancient sites scattered around the globe. I mean really, what else was there to do? You've got a project that takes me away from the backbreaking work of the homestead for backbreaking work in the quarry, with snacks? And pay?!? Sign me up!!

    The ancients were able to build all of these projects because they were driven. And had nothing else to take their time up. Try building the Paramid at Gaza now or carve the statues on Easter Island. Good luck with the financing.

    Now, that's not to say that I would WANT to live during those times. Because it was kind of sucky. You'd never be really sure where your next meal was coming from, if those mongrel hordes were going to invade your land, or you take a flat rock to the head while plowing the garden and then you're a vegetable. I do like our modern times very much so. However, I do admire the great thinkers of the past as they had the luxury of time. Time to spend on intellectual pursuits; for the good of their fellow man. And that night sky must have been amazing. - from Cobaltthetrue ( because i haven't figured out how to add my tag to these posts yet).

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  2. Cobalt: I don't think the ancients had much leisure time at all, as probably close to 90% of their time was spent acquiring food in order to survive. However, I very much agree with your thoughts on the night sky - it truly must have been amazing. The closest thing I have every experienced to that was when I was outside of Amman, Jordan, in 1978. The desert sky then was breathtaking - stars glittering and brilliant. I've never seen another since then like that.

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