Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.
Mrs Hickey at Newgrange.
Mrs Hickey, caretaker at Newgrange around 1910.

Art and symbolism of Newgrange

Newgrange has some of the finest megalithic art in Europe. Three of the kerbstones are fully decorated - the Entrance stone, Kerbstone 52 which is positioned at the exact opposite side of the cairn to the entrance, and K 67 which lies to the north of the chamber.

In addition there are many lesser carvings on other kerbstones. During the excavation it was discovered that several stones were decorated on their inner hidden sides, which prompted much speculation about the nature and meaning of the art.

Engraving of the Entrance Stone from William Wilde.
Engraving of the Entrance Stone from William Wilde.

The lintel of the Roofbox is engraved with a series of eight lozanges which may reflect the division of the year into eight parts as can be seen in the equinox engravings within Cairn T at Loughcrew.

The lintel of the Roofbox.
The lintel of the Roofbox.

The passage and chamber stones are also richly engraved with spiral, lozange and zig-zag motifs. The signiture of the Newgrange builders is the famous triple spiral which appears in a large version on the entrance stone and a finer version in the end recess of the chamber.

Painting of K1.
Kerbstone 1 at Newgrange.

The artwork was catalogued by Claire O'Kelly, wife of Michael O'Kelly, while the excavations were taking place. Claire took rubbings of the stones, most of which are reproduced in Michael O'Kelly's Newgrange book.

The triple spiral
The triple spiral or OM within the end recess of Newgrange.

Another researcher who made an intensive study of the megalithic art of the Boyne Valley and Loughcrew was Martin Brennan. His work was published in two books, The Boyne Valley Vision and The Stars and the Stones.

Decorated cairn stone from Newgrange.
Decorated cairn stones from Newgrange.

Martin Brennan was trained as an artist, and he made several ground-breaking discoveries about the relationship between the art and the astronomical alignments of the mounds. He was the first person to draw attention to the important alignments at Loughcrew, and the shadow-casting properties of the standing stones at Newgrange.

Newgrange carvings.
Newgrange carvings, after Wakeman.

Sadly, his work was much maligned at the time—there seems to have been plenty of animosity towards the field of archaeoastronomy in general. However, now almost 30 years since his books were published, many of his theories have become accepted, though often uncredited.

RTE's Richard Dowling speaks to Muiris O'Suilleabhain, Professor of Archeology at UCD about Neolithic Art at Newgrange ahead of this year's Winter Solstice on December 21st 2011.

Kerbstone 1 stands at the entrance to Newgrange. In years gone by people had to climb over the stone. The modern arrangement of cut limestone wings were installed during the rebuilding of Newgrange in the 1970's to save wear and tear on the stones. An enormous number of people pass through this portal every year.

The panel of art, on the roofslab within the right recess of Newgrange.
The panel of art, on the roofslab within the right recess of Newgrange.