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 Location: Boyne Valley, Nr Slane, County Meath.  Grid Reference: 53� 41' 39.73" N. 6� 28' 30.11" W.


      Newgrange: (Passage Mound).

The Newgrange passage-mound sits at the heart of the Boyne valley complex. The structure is composed of 280,000 tons of river rolled stones, and the white granite that makes up the exterior face was transported especially from the coast, 50 miles away. 

Although Newgrange has been modernised 'through the eyes of a seventies design junkie', the atmosphere of the site still opens the prehistoric eye.

(Schematic of interior of Newgrange)

(Overhead plan of Newgrange)




Surrounded by a stone circle (12 remaining from an estimated original 36), with 97 Kerb-stones, an internal cruciform chamber and  corbelled roof, the grandiose scale of the earth-works at Newgrange make it one of the most spectacular of prehistoric monuments in all Europe. The recognition that it provides an accurate means of measuring the solar year (to within a margin of several minutes), is testimony to the prehistoric mind.

Newgrange is currently in the care of Heritage Ireland , and access is by guided tour only.

According to Irish mythology Newgrange was one of the sidhe, or fairy-mounds, where the Tuatha De Danann lived. It was built by the god Dagda, but his son Oengus later tricked him out of it. It is named for the goddess Boann, the mother of Aengus, who is also credited with the creation of the River Boyne.

Newgrange has been radio-carbon dated to around 3,200 BC (2)

 'originally built between c. 3300 and 2900 BC' - Ref: (wikipedia).


Construction Features:

There are numerous construction features within the design of this passage mound that stand out in their technical expertise. In fact, what we see at Newgrange, is the Neolithic response to a desire to measure the solar year exactly, and that is exactly what they achieved. Each individual design feature in and around the passage-mound is the result of the imagination overcoming this awesome task. We are offered at Newgrange, a chance to step into the mind of the megalithic builders.

The primary construction features at Newgrange combine to create the effect that a small dagger of sunlight travels along the passage floor into the central chamber for exactly 17 minutes each year.

The site was first investigated by antiquarians in the 17th century and there have been several studies and excavations since then.

The current shape of the mound - There was much controversy over the reconstruction of the structure, especially the white quartz wall on top of the South-East sector of the kerb, which was based on the position of the white quartz layers found during excavations between 1962 and 1975. The eventual reconstruction is an interpretation of remains from a totally collapsed site. The shape of the front is also not authentic, but was deliberately left indented to emphasise the entrance. The darker square-stones in the wall surrounding the entrance are also not authentic. Similarly, the kerb-stones have been placed into the mound, and under a concrete sill 'to protect them'. It is these changes which have given the structure the 'modern' feel it has today.

Newgrange before any restoration at the turn of the century.


The mound is not a perfect circle, but is made up of a series of sections of parabolas, supporting Prof. A. Thom's assertion of geometry in the design. Around the mound are 12 standing stones which are believed to have been set up the same time. The kerb-stone that lies before the passage has carvings similar to one found on the Orkneys, and another found at Bugibba, Malta.

The beautifully carved Kerb-stone in front of the entrance to the passage-mound.

(Note: The spirals rotate clockwise on the left hand side of the stone, and anti-clockwise on the right).


The Kerb-stones - All the mounds in the Boyne valley have kerb-stones, The Newgrange mound is surrounded by 97 granite 'Kerb-stones', with carvings only visible on a few. It has been pointed out that the stones with the most carvings on are also the most significantly astronomically aligned, leading to suggestions that the carvings have an astronomically significance themselves.

The rear kerb-stone (K52). A line divides the art into two halves.

(Click here for individual images of each kerbstone)


The Entrance: The following pictures illustrate the changes that have been made since restoration.

The entrance as it was at the turn of the century.



The entrance after first restoration, but still before the Disneyfication of the 1970's.


The Light-box/Roof-box - Above the entrance passage is a 'light-box', which precisely aligns with the rising sun at the winter solstice of 21st  December, so that the rays touch the ground at the very centre of the tomb for about 20 minutes. Many of the upright stones along the walls of the 19m (62ft) passage, which follows the rise of the hill, are richly decorated.


newgrange (ancient-wisdom.com)

The light-box combines with other design features so that the light is narrowed with the result that a small 'dagger' of light slides along the floor of the passage towards the inner chamber, where it illuminates it for 17 minutes a year.


There are suggestions of roof-boxes at other UK sites. There is another at Carrowkeel in Ireland, and similar light effects are recorded at Bryn-celli-Ddu in Wales (To be confirmed), and Maes-Howe on the Orkneys.

Similar carvings as those found on the front face of the lintel of the roof box can be seen at other passage mounds, such as at Fourknocks and Gavr'inis, (both orientated astronomically), which has led some to suggest that this design might have had a significance (rather than just abstract art).

The stone at Newgrange appears to have eight crosses on its face, but a diagram of the stone before reconstruction (below), suggests that there may have once been another cross on the face, which would make a total of nine crosses, the same as at Gavr'inis..


The stone above can be seen in the east recess of the cruciform chamber inside Newgrange. It is very similar in style to art seen on lintel-stones at Fourknocks.

(More about light-boxes)



Inside the Mound:

The passage slopes upwards towards the centre of the tomb so that the floor-level inside the chamber is at the same height as the ceiling level at the entrance, the passage also undulates from side to side along its length. The combined effect of these two features is that the light that enters the passage is narrowed both vertically and horizontally into a small focused beam of light that only penetrates the internal chamber for a few minutes on the winter solstice.

The stones that cover the passage had small channels cut into them on their upper-faces to keep the passage dry. Similarly, the stones that compose the corbelled roof of the chamber are all sloped downwards on the outside, also presumable to keep the chamber dry. These features highlight the skill of the builders, and lend weight to the idea that the structure was built for long-term use (rather than as a funerary structure).



Inside the heart of the mound is a single corbelled chamber entered through the passage orientated towards the sunrise on the winter solstice. The internal plan is in the form of a cross (cruciform), and is lined with large slabs of rock. The cruciform chamber inside the mound measures 6.5 x 6.2m (21ft 6in x 17ft), has three recesses, and is topped by a magnificent corbelled roof reaching to a height of 6m (20ft) above the floor. In the recesses are three massive stone basins (similar to those found in the temples on Malta), and which presumably served some ritual use. The basin in the back alcove was broken a few hundred years ago by a treasure hunter. (16). Excavations in the central chamber produced the remains of two burials and at least three cremated bodies as well as seven marbles, four pendants, two beads, a flint flake, a bone chisel, and fragments of several bone pins and points.


Cruciform passage graves describe a complex example of prehistoric passage mound found in Ireland, Wales and the Orkneys and built during the later Neolithic, 'from around 3,500 BC and later' (1).

The cruciform shape of the interior chambers is a common prehistoric design feature, seen in several prehistoric structures from different European sites in Scotland, France and Malta. It is interesting that in several of these locations, large round 'offering bowls' have been found. (Such as Maes Howe, Orkneys and the Tarxien, Malta).

They are distinguished by a long passage leading to a central chamber with a corbelled roof. From this, burial chambers extend in three directions, giving the overall impression in plan of a cross shape layout. Some examples have further sub-chambers leading off the three original chambers. The network of chambers is covered by a cairn and lined outside with kerb-stones.

A common trait is megalithic art carved into the stones of the chambers' walls and roofs. Abstract designs were favoured, especially spirals and zig-zags.

Examples are Newgrange , Knowth, Dowth and Fourknocks  (amongst many) in Ireland, Maes howe in Orkney, 'La Hougue Bie' on Jersey and Barclodiad-y-Gawres in Anglesey.

(Cruciform chambers and 'libation bowls')


Chronology - Newgrange has been radio-carbon dated to around 3,200 BC:

 'originally built between c. 3300 and 2900 BC' - Ref: (wikipedia).

It gets its modern name from the fact that by 1142, the site had become part of Mellifont Abbey farm. These farms were known as granges, and by 14th century the site was known only as the 'New Grange'. In early Irish mythology, Newgrange was not only the alleged burial place of the prehistoric kings of Tara, but also the home of a race of Irish supernatural beings, known as 'Tuatha de Danann' : the people of the goddess Danu. Newgrange was also taken to be the house of the patriarchal god Dagda.


Archaeo-astronomy - (Arguably the whole point of the structure).

The most noticeable astronomical feature of Newgrange is the orientation of the passage towards the winter solstice sunrise. Although, in itself this no mean feat of engineering. What is amazing is that the designers managed to narrow the beam of solstice sunlight into such a small beam of light, and then have it travelling upward along the channel towards the chamber. In addition, the light-box itself has been designed so as to enhance this effect. Newgrange is just one part of a huge observatory that is the 'Boyne valley complex'.

Newgrange is noticeably orientated towards Fourknocks, several kilometres away.

(More about Light-boxes)

(Archaeoastronomy Homepage)


Examples of spiral-'art' at Newgrange - There are several spirals at Newgrange, both inside the structure and out. There meaning is still only guessed at, but it has been suggested that they relate to the solar cycle. It is noticeable that the spirals on the kerb-stone directly in front of the passage appear to rotate clockwise on the left side and anticlockwise on the right.

Information has emerged in favour of the suggestion that they have an astronomical meaning. An American artist has apparently shown though experiment, how the suns rays, when projected onto an object and recorded at the same time each day over a full year, create the shape of a double-spiral (What then is the meaning of the triple spiral?).


There are several sets of double and triple spirals in the chambers and passage of the mound.


The Spiral-art on the stone diametrically opposite the entrance kerbstone. The art is reminiscent of rock-art found at Maes Howe in the Orkneys, Malta (Bugibba in particular), and Gavr'inis in France.

(Spirals Homepage)


(The Boyne Valley Complex)



(Passage Mounds)


(Other Prehistoric Irish Sites)




1). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cruciform_passage_grave
2). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newgrange

Further Research:

Additional Information about Newgrange: SacredSites.com


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