Built as a part of a complex of monuments along the River Boyne in Ireland, New Grange is a passage tomb dating from circa 3200 BCE. Along with Knowth and Dowth, these are called Brú na Bóinne. New Grange is the largest of as many as 35 so called passage tombs in the region. Passage tombs have, as the name suggests, a long passage leading to a chamber where the remains of the dead are placed. These remains were usually cremated. The passage and the chamber were then covered over by a large mound of stones and earth. New Grange is a large kidney shaped mound, which covers over an acre and is surrounded by 97 kerbstones. Many of the kerbstones around the base have been decorated with neolithic art. These carvings include triskelions, which are some of the oldest symbols for protection, as well as other spirals. One of the carved figures has a design which reminds observers of a stylized face. The most decorated of the stones is the Entrance Stone.
The cairn itself is roughly circular and flat topped. It is made from water-rolled stones from the terraces above the River Boyne. The tomb underneath is made up a long passage and a cross-shaped chamber. The passage is less than 60 feet long and leads into the chamber, which has three side recesses. The corbelled vault roof has survived watertight and intact without any renovation. This roof supports the cairn above, which is estimated to weigh 200,000 tons. The room on the right of the passage is the most ornate, and have two stone basins. These are one inside the other. Archaeologists believe carved basins were used to hold the remains of the dead. Because the tomb was disturbed before there could be a proper archaeological examination, it is not known how many bodies were interred in New Grange. The remains of five people were found, but it is theorized the original number was much higher. With the bodies were found, beads made of bone and polished stone balls.
Above the entrance to the passage, there is a small opening called a roof-box. From December 19th to December 23rd, the winter solstice, a narrow beam of light shines through the roof-box and illuminates the chamber inside. As each day passes, the beam of light widens until the entire room is awash in light. This lasts for only 17 minutes from roughly 8:58 am to 9:15 am. The scope the engineering needed to create this is unbelievable. New Grange was built 500 years before the Great Pyramids and more than 1,000 years before Stonehenge. It is believed the light illuminating the tomb may have been a symbol of life’s victory over death.
Although New Grange was built in neolithic times, it has taken its place in Irish mythology. The Celts believed these were sídhe or fairy mounds. New Grange specifically was said to be the home of Oenghus, the god of love. The tomb inside was opened in 1699 and New Grange became a place of interest to amatuer historians and archaeologists. The first formal excavation was not done until 1962. It is now been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sources available on request