Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Winter Solstice - 3200 BC Prehistoric Passage Tombs or Monuments



Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland

Newgrange is a prehistoric structure in County Meath, Ireland.  It was built during the Neolithic period around 3200 BC, making it older than Stonehenge & the Egyptian pyramids.  According to carbon-14 dates, it is about 500 years older than the current form of Stonehenge, and the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, as well as predating the Mycenaean culture of ancient Greece.  The site consists of a large circular mound with a stone passageway & interior chambers. The mound has a retaining wall at the front & is ringed by engraved kerbstones. 


Entrance to Newgrange in Ireland in  1905, when the mound had become largely overgrown.

Newgrange contains various examples of abstract Neolithic rock art carved onto it. These carvings fit into 10 categories, 5 of which are curvilinear (circles, spirals, arcs, serpentiniforms & dot-in-circles) and the other 5 of which are rectilinear (chevrons, lozenges, radials, parallel lines & offsets). There is no agreement among archaeologist & historians about what the site was used for, but it has been speculated that it had religious significance – it is aligned with the rising sun & its light floods the chamber on the winter solstice.


Entrance to Newgate in Ireland today

A passage grave or tomb or monument consists of a narrow passage made of large stones & one or multiple burial? chambers covered in earth or stone. The building of passage tombs usually dates from the Neolithic Age.  Those with more than one chamber may have multiple sub-chambers leading off from a main chamber.  One common layout, the cruciform passage grave, is cross-shaped.  Not all passage graves have been found to contain evidence of human remains. One such example is Maeshowe in Scotland.  Maeshowe is a Neolithic chambered passage monument or grave situated on Mainland, Orkney, Scotland.  It was probably built around 2800 BCE.  Megalithic art has been identified carved into the stones at some sites. The passage itself, in a number of notable instances, is aligned in such a way that the sun shines into the passage at a significant point in the year, for example at the winter solstice.


Maeshowe in Orkney, Scotland

Passage tombs or monuments are distributed extensively in lands along the Atlantic seaboard of Europe. They are found in Ireland, Britain, Scandinavia, northern Germany, & the Drenthe area of the Netherlands. They are also found in Iberia, some parts of the Mediterranean, & along the northern coast of Africa. In Ireland & Britain, passage tombs or monuments are often found in large clusters. Many later passage tombs were constructed at the tops of hills or mountains, perhaps because their builders intended them to be seen from a great distance.


Maeshowe Entrance today


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