Ancient History: Newgrange Portal Tomb

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by travelswithkids on September 28, 2009

How many times in your life do you get to stand in a room constructed in prehistoric times? Newgrange is your opportunity to experience such a site. Not just old, but ancient. Prehistoric as in before anyone you have ever learned about. The builders of Newgrange were long forgotten before the time of Beowulf, Jesus, Buddha, Alexander, Moses, or King Tut.

Owing to its more reconstructed state, Newgrange is the most spectacular of the three neighboring passage tombs of Knowth, Dowth, and Newgrange. Dating to around 3200 B.C., Newgrange is a massive man-made mound of earth 90 meters in diameter covering a long-hidden interior burial chamber. The interior chamber features a corbelled roof that has held up and remained water tight for 50 centuries. The most famous feature of this interior chamber is that it is illuminated only at the winter solstice by a shaft of light which enters through a strategically placed roof box over the entrance.

The entrance to the chamber is guarded by a massive kerbstone with multiple spirals on its face. The ancient designs on these kerbstones have carried forward as motifs in celtic art thoughout the ages.

The best part of the Newgrange tour is that you actually get to go inside the ancient chamber in the mound. Ducking your head under the stone-lined passage roof, after 19 meters you enter the actual chamber. On three sides are smaller sub-chambers which contain massive basin stones which held cremated human remains. As part of the experience, the guides turn off the lights, and use an artificial light to demonstrate the phenomenon of the winter solstice light beam entering the center chamber.

Outside of the main mound entrance, there are several massive standing stones. Additionally, there are 97 huge kerbstones around the perimeter, decorated with megalithic designs. The facade of bright white quartz was reconstructed using stones found on site.

You gain access to Newgrange through the Brú na Bóinne visitors center. Try to get there early as it can get very busy and all the tour slots for the day can sell out. If you aren't there right at the start of the day, expect to wait an hour or two for your allotted tour time. But there is plenty to see and learn in the nice visitors center, which also has a somewhat pricey cafeteria. About 15 minutes before your tour begins, you walk a few hundred meters, across a pretty bridge over the Boyne, to the bus parking lot. Shuttles for both Newgrange and Knowth depart from this point. After a few minutes ride, you are let off at Newgrange. A tour guide provides some history, and escorts you into the interior chamber. Your tour provides enough time to walk the rest the way around the mound and take a few photos.

Take some time to ponder what these primitive people were able to accomplish: The working and transporting of these huge stones. The engineering to construct the passage and chamber roofs that have held up for millenia. The astronomical observations and precision alignment to catch the solstice light. The massive undertaking of building up the mound. The mystical designs carved into the stones, whose purpose modern scientists can only guess at. It truly is a magical place to visit and one of the best prehistoric sites I've ever seen.

At the visitors center, you can also enter a lottery for tickets to enter the Newgrange chamber on the winter solstice (or a day or two on either side) and experience the event first-hand. Good luck!
Co. Meath, Ireland
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