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Wednesday, 21 December 2016

So Newgrange Neolithic "solstice sunbeam" engineering is a con?

Well, this is interesting.  Apparently the most striking feature of Newgrange, namely the winter solstice "sunbeam slot" that allows the light of the rising sun to penetrate to the back of the chamber, is not a Neolithic feature after all, buy a modern con.  Is nothing sacred?


Newgrange sun trap may be only 50 years old, says archaeologist 

Evidence solstice monument was Iron Age ‘Hiberno-Roman cult site’ was ‘underplayed’

Lorna Siggins
Trapping the winter solstice sun at Newgrange in Co Meath is not a 5,000-year-old phenomenon, but a 50-year-old “construct”, according to a former State archaeologist.

Our Stone Age ancestors were not as clever as we thought, and the significance of Newgrange as a “Hiberno-Roman” cult site in the late Iron Age has been deliberately  underplayed, Michael Gibbons, co-author of a paper on the subject, argues.

Newgrange’s alignment, which captures the rising sun during the winter solstice period around December 21st, has made it one of the world’s best known megalithic tombs.

If skies are clear during sunrises from December 19th to 23rd, a narrow beam of light penetrates its “roof-box”, reaches the chamber floor and extends gradually to illuminate the entire chamber over 1 7-minute period – marking new life at the turn of the year.

However, in an article published in archaeological journal Emania, Mr Gibbons and his nephew Myles take issue with the excavation and reconstruction work carried out on the passage tomb half a century ago by the late Prof Michael O’Kelly, including the famous “roof box” for trapping the sunlight – said to be 5,000 years old.

Mr Gibbons, an independent archaeologist based in Connemara, is a former co-director of the Office of Public Works (OPW) national sites and monuments record office.

Roman artefacts

Discovery of “high value” Roman artefacts inside and outside the tomb, along with remains of dogs and horses, point to an Iron Age burial site dedicated to an “Irish elite” with links to Roman Britain, the Gibbons paper argues.

It takes issue with Prof O’Kelly’s contention that the tomb was largely unaltered from the Neolithic period, and says that Iron Age activities may have included construction of an enclosure or “barrow” on the summit and alterations to the mound’s profile.

Mr Gibbons says the “roof box” which was central to capturing the winter light has “not a shred of authenticity”, and was “fabricated” during reconstruction in the 1960s.

He says that it is “no wonder” that Newgrange was included in a list of the “world’s worst archaeological reconstructions” by Durham university archaeologist Prof Chris Scarre and colleagues in 2006.

Newgrange has been the subject of much archaeological debate since Prof Michael O’Kelly made the first observation of the mid-winter “solstice phenomenon” at Newgrange in 1967.

Questions have been raised about the quartz wall surrounding the passage tomb, which was erected between 1967 and 1974 on the basis of Prof O’Kelly’s interpretation.

Dogs and horses

The paper by the Gibbons brothers analyses the various challenges to Prof O’Kelly’s thesis, and says Newgrange’s real significance as an Iron Age “Hiberno-Roman cult site” is supported by discoveries at the Boyne valley location which he “underplayed”.

Valuable Roman material includes coins, two gold torcs, a brooch and gold ring, pendants and a bracelet, and there was also evidence of dogs and horses, and stags or elks were uncovered from the late 17th century on.

Asked to comment, Dr Richard Hensey, author of the recently published First Light: the Origins of Newgrange, said he would agree that there was significant Iron Age activity, and said Prof O’Kelly placed “less stress” on this period.

However, Dr Hensey said it was “not correct” to state that the roof-box was a “construct”, and a series of studies indicated it was 5,000 years old.

The box’s “elevation” during reconstruction work, supervised by Prof O’Kelly, was due to the fact that orthostats or upright stones in the tomb’s outer passage required straightening, he said.

“Prof O’Kelly worked at a different time, when the criteria and guidelines we have for reconstruction did not exist,”Dr Hensey said.

“Bord F√°ilte √Čireann, as the tourist board was known then, gave the initial impetus for the project to attract visitors, and it has been enormously successful,” he said.

Dr Hensey will be attending the solstice at Newgrange on Wednesday on behalf of the OPW.


chris johnson said...

Pure coincidence that the passage is aligned to the solstice sun?? And at a time when we "know" that people were interested in such alignments? I think not - but then all people are entitled to make up stories, including archaeologists

TonyH said...

It all reads a bit semi - incestuous and Irish: apparently Mr Gibbons' nephew is also his brother, so he is, indeed to goodness!! Val Doonican would probably have sung a song about this whilst rocking in his rocking chair, wearing his seasonal Winter Solstice jumper, with leprachauns running amok around him.

chris johnson said...

I follow a site called Shadows and Stone which regularly has marvellous photos to enjoy.

Just now is a site of the midwinter sun streaming into the chamber at Dowth. Coincidence? Unlikely ....

Alex Gee said...

On my way home to my true love this afternoon c.1500hrs I was listening to a programme on

Newgrange on Radio 4.

The programme featured various members of the organisation now responsible for its upkeep

and like those at EH entrusted with the upkeep of Stonehenge, they too appeared to have no

knowledge whatsoever of alternative interpretations of their site.

This afternoon at Newgrange The 5000 year solstice alignment was the only hypothesis on


Given the blinkered outlook of the staff at these and other major Archaeological sites, it

would appear that a new collective description is required to describe their curators?

Perhaps Brian would allow a contest to select one on this blog?

I'll start the ball rolling. A "delusion" of Curators? A "Blind" of Curators? or an

"ignorance" of curators?

Look forward to other contributions!

TonyH said...

Radio 4 had an excellent "Open Country" programme at 3 p.m this afternoon, "Winter Solstice at Newgrange". The usual presenter, Helen Mark, was stunned to observe the rising sun illuminating the Newgrange inner passage.

It is repeated Christmas Eve [Saturday], at 6.07 a.m. so set your devices, folks!

The late Professor O'Kelly [mentioned in Irish Times article Brian has summarised] was the first person to see the light break through in modern times - not sure whether that was pre - reconstruction, anyone know? Anyone been inside?

One contributor, landscape writer Anthony Murphy, said there would have been 200 to 400 journeys along the River Boyne with 3 to 4 tonne rocks to Newgrange (which is just one of 3 passage tombs in this landscape). Sandstone probably came from 20 to 25 miles away to the NE, on the coast.

Earth sods from the construction of Newgrange came from nearby cultivated fields.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Oh dear -- here we go again! Quote from Tony: "One contributor, landscape writer Anthony Murphy, said there would have been 200 to 400 journeys along the River Boyne with 3 to 4 tonne rocks to Newgrange (which is just one of 3 passage tombs in this landscape). Sandstone probably came from 20 to 25 miles away to the NE, on the coast."

What planet do these people live on? Newgrange is in one of the most intensely glaciated parts of the British Isles. I reckon that the ice might well have been well over 1000m thick on several occasions over the site of Newgrange, and the idea that any stone transport journeys at all were needed is pretty ludicrous. Monoliths could have come from almost any direction except south. They just needed to be collected up. There is abundant literature on glaciation and erratic transport in the Boyne valley -- this is a simple summary:

MoA said...

If you read the paper there is very little on the light box reconstruction it mainly concerns itself with the IA and Roman litter around the site.

The dogs and other bones may be modern. It looks as if the contexts are difficult to determine but the boys are correct there is much post-Neolithic messing. It is true that more emphasis has been placed on Newgrange and the 'Secondary Neolithic' to use old money

Unlike the Daily Mail-reporting reports and your gloss on it, the real paper and its data and conclusions are more guarded.
The famous white qtz facade is believed to be from the Wicklows MUCH to the south of the Newgrange.


BRIAN JOHN said...

Fine fun and games! Here is a part of the backlash:

Will somebody sue on behalf of Prof O'Kelly? Getting exciting.....

Alex Gee said...

Great FUN!

TonyH said...

Confirmation Irish Passage Tombs ARE Neolithic, November 2016 rock art discovery revealed with special photographic techniques:-