The mysteries of Newgrange

One thing many people will tell you if you are traveling is to have in mind sights you want to see and things you want to do, but leave space in your schedule for spur of the moment opportunities. I had one such opportunity when I traveled to Dublin, Ireland.

I was planning on staying in the city for my four-day visit, but after receiving an email from my former college advisor, who knew I was traveling to Dublin, at her recommendation I booked a day tour to the Newgrange tomb just outside of the city.

Newgrange is a prehistoric monument built around 3000 B.C. to 2500 B.C., which makes it 500 years older than Stonehenge and 1,000 years older than the Egyptian pyramids. While it might not be as grand as the pyramids or as mesmerizing as Stonehenge it does include some special features that boggle the human mind.

The tomb is made of a large, circular stone mound with a stone passageway and interior chambers. The passage stretches for 60 feet or about a third of the way into the center. At the end of the passage are three small chambers off a larger central chamber. The small chambers may have held the bones of the dead, but its still not clear if the site was actually a burial place.


The entrance to the Newgrange tomb.

Another interesting aspect of the tomb is that once a year, at the winter solstice, the rising sun shines directly into the passage and illuminates the main inner chamber, which reveals wall carvings. The illumination lasts for about 17 minutes. Today the light on winter solstice enters about four minutes after sunrise, but astronomical calculations of Earth show that 5,000 years ago first light would have entered the passage at exactly sunrise.

I cannot fathom how a group of people could not only build a structure—that had massive stones carried uphill from over 15 miles away—but could also design it to allow the passage to be lit up on the winter solstice at exactly sunrise. This is where you could perhaps begin to believe in aliens.

Jokes aside, I try to remember to keep my traveling schedule a bit loose, because had I not allowed myself a less rigid schedule I never would have had the experience of seeing an incredible structure built thousands of years ago by a very determined (or alien-aided) civilization.

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