Today we’re traveling to ancient Ireland. Step back in history with me to a time before Ireland was
part of the European Union, before the famines, before the British ever set foot in Ulster, before the Vikings landed, before St. Patrick helped spread Christianity to its shores and before the Celts. Welcome to 3000 BC. Dense forests surround you. Farmland is not yet covering the hills. Your parents were hunters and gathers and now you are staying in one place for the first time on this isle. Wolves and bears (no longer present in Ireland) still ruled the land in 3000 BC and traveling long distances was made all the more difficult without benefit of the wheel and with such beasts to contend with. Now, imagine building a massive stone structure with pinpoint accuracy to illuminate the building at sunrise on the Winter Solstice.
That is exactly what the ancient Irish did in the Boyne Valley at a place called Newgrange. This is the site of the oldest solar observatory in the world. 1000 years older than Stonehenge and 500 years older than the pyramids, Newgrange beckons with its secrets and with its astounding scientific accuracy.
The window box above the door of Newgrange is what allows the beam of sunlight to enter the chambers at sunrise for a few short days in December. There are several theories about the purpose of Newgrange. Some believe that the beam of light was symbolic of rebirth, as the sun returned and the days lengthened. If this is true, then the light may have led to a receptacle holding the remains of the dead and the people may have believed that their spirits were returned to the sun.
The stones themselves are interesting in Newgrange. The ceiling is corbelled, stacked layer upon layer without benefit of nails or cement. For over 5000 years, the interior of Newgrange has remained dry against the railing Irish rains. The people who built Newgrange were clearly dedicated to the task as the experts estimate that it took several generations for the structure to be built. In addition, using only logs as rollers to move 1 ton stones, and rivers to transport rocks from the Wicklow Mountains to the South and the Mourne Mountains to the North (distances of over 50 miles away from Newgrange), the people assembled their variety of carefully chosen building materials. Neolithic art, as exemplified on this kerb stone at the front of Newgrange’s door, has many stories and theories of its own. Whether the designs signified something related to astronomy, farming or something else entirely is unknown. The appearance of the front of Newgrange is also somewhat of a mystery. The stones fell at the front of the structure and were replaced where the experts best believed they were. The interior is entirely intact still, though.
With its many mysteries, it is certain that the builders of Newgrange were well adept at astronomy, persistent in their cause and devoted to its design. For a people concerned with precision, I think they would be happy to know that their work has lasted for over 5000 years and still welcomes the dawning sun each December.
My best to you all,