Care to experience the Stone Age at first hand? Join the lucky few who walk into the mysterious mound of earth and quartz called Newgrange, located some 30 miles north of Dublin, Ireland, on the morning of Dec. 21, the winter solstice. As the sun rises on this shortest day of the year, its rays probe the same 6o-ft. passage you have taken to the interior of the mound, illuminating its central chamber for about17 minutes. Newgrange is one of the oldest buildings made by human hands that we can stand inside today. Believed to have been constructed around 3200 B.C., it is seven centuries older than the pyramids of Egypt, and—as the locals happily boast—at least 1,000 years older than Britain’s Stonehenge. Scientists describe this kidney-shaped ruin as a chamber tomb, built to house the remains of a notable person or persons. Such tombs are common to many different ancient cultures; they can be found in Greece, Iran, Malta, Egypt and Mexico. Newgrange is one of the most dramatic of these tombs; in its cruciform central chamber, giant stones support a ceiling that soars 20 ft. over the floor. The mound itself is encircled by 12 large standing stones; it is believed that some 35 similar stones once completely surrounded the site. Newgrange is only one of a series of such Neolithic burial charm bers that lie along the Boyne River in Ireland. The entire complex,
called the Bru na Boinne (Palace on the Boyne), includes other passage graves at Knowth and Dowth, as well as standing stones and henges that are similar to, if less impressive than, those familiar from Stonehenge. The 78-acre Bru na Boinne is a U N ESCO World Heritage Site, protected by the United Nations. The structure, in ruins and with its ceiling fallen, lay hidden for centuries until it was discovered in 1699 by road builders seeking stone. The complex was extensively reconstructed in the 1970s, using blinding-white original quartz stones found at the site. The mysteries of Newgrange are many: we know too little about the people who built it, what they believed and whom they considered worthy of the honor of burial within it. Was its central chamber reserved for kings, nobles or priests? And what is the significance of the labyrinth-like spirals that decorate the site? Even more intriguing to scientists is the knowledge required to create such structures; scientists estimate that using Stone Age technology, the building of Newgrange would have required the labor of 30o men working for 20 years. Whether these workers were slaves pressed into service or the faithful, honored to serve, we may never know. However, if you are lucky enough to witness the sun rise on winter-solstice morning at New-grange, you will be among a select few: in 2005, nearly 27,000 people entered a lottery to witness this ancient congruence; loo were chosen.
MAZE : A triple spiral design 12 in. In diameter adorns a stone inside the main chamber, below; a large entrance stone also bears the motif. At right, the passage to the central chamber