The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


Barrow Hill Tumulus (West Mersea), Mersea Island, Essex

Glass Burial Urn

Roman Glass Funery Urn & Lead Cist from West Mersea Burial Mound (tumulus).

OS Grid Reference: TM 02257 14341. At the southeastern side of Barrow Hill at West Mersea on Mersea Island, overlooking Pyfleet Channel, in Essex, there is a large tree-covered mound which is a round barrow (tumulus). In this burial mound a Romano-British king was probably buried   at the end of the 1st Century AD, or in the early 2nd Century, so the story goes. However, there seems ‘now’ to be some uncertainty about the age of the monument. When the barrow was ex-cavated in 1912 a glass cinery urn was found in a lead container. This contained a child’s remains. Locally the barrow is called ‘The Mount’. The burial mound is 1½ miles north-east of St Peter & St Paul’s Church, West Mersea, and 9 miles south of Colchester. The island, which is 5 miles long, is reached by a causeway (southeast of Peldon) called ‘The Strood’ which crosses over the creek; then follow the East Mersea road for a ¼ of a mile, keeping to the left, until you reach Barrow Hill. The tumulus is to be found beneath the tall trees close by Barrow Hill farm.

The Historic England website says that: “The monument includes the known extent and buried remains of a Roman barrow situated on relatively high ground at the north-west edge of the central plateau of Mersea Island overlooking the Pyfleet Channel. The flat-topped conical mound mound is some 35m in diameter and 7m high. The top has a diameter of some 5m. There is no enclosing ditch. Excavations carried out by the Morant Club in 1912 found that the mound contained a burial dating from the late first to early second century AD. The burial chamber, sited slightly off-center, was dug into the original ground surface so that its floor was some 38cm beneath this level. The chamber measured some 45cm wide by 54cm high. A foundation of boulders and broken tile supported a floor of two roof tiles; seven courses of flanged roofing tiles formed the walls, with the two upper courses slightly corbelled to support the roof, which was made of a single tile some 54cm square. Within the burial chamber, the cremated remains of a child were found in a glass flask placed within a small lead casket with a wooden lid. The structure of the mound comprised a consolidated central core of impure quartz sand, above which was mixed gravel and sand. Following the 1912 excavations, a passage was constructed through the excavation trench to the burial chamber; this is extant and facilitates viewing of the inner chamber. All modern fence lines, railings, walls, made-up surfaces and the wooden Wendy house are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included,” according to Historic England. See their website, below.

Benham’s (1946) says of the West Mersea Sepulchral Deposit, that: “A glass urn (containing bones) and the cist in which it was discovered. Exhumed from a large tumulus at Mersea, the deposit is supposed to have been in honour of a British chieftain (1st Century).” These antiquities were to be found in Colchester Castle Museum, but they are now in the Mersea Museum. Benham’s then adds, saying: “Roman Glass: Included in this collection is the magnificent glass urn, containing burnt human bones, found in a large barrow or tumulus at West Mersea.”   

Richmond (1963) tells of: “……….Another very large tomb was the circular mausoleum at West Mersea (Essex), a stone-revetted structure with earth fill, sixty-five feet in diameter, braced by radiating walls and marginal buttresses.”

Benham’s (1946) tells of other Roman remains on Mersea Island, saying that: “When some alterations were being made in West Mersea Hall, which stands near the church, about the year 1730, a fine Roman tessellated pavement was discovered. In the chancel of the church was found a pavement of red tesserae an inch-and-a-half square, forming rays of stars. From the diversity and continuity of these tesserae, extending nearly 100 feet from east to west, by about fifty from north to south, it has been conjectured that this grand mosaic pavement was not merely the groundwork of a general’s tent, but rather that the whole belonged to the villa of some Roman officer, who might have been invited by the delightfulness of the situation to make this his summer abode. In 1920 a Roman pavement was found in fixing a telegraph pole forty feet south of Yew Tree House, and a further portion of the same pavement was uncovered in 1931 in the garden of the house.

“West Mersea Church (St. Peter and St. Paul)…….The stone upon which the church font (which has a 13th century bowl) rests has been supposed to be the cupola of a Roman column. In December, 1896, not far from the church, the foundations of a circular building were unearthed. The ground plan of this building was that of a 65-ft. diameter wheel, with six spokes, and a central hexagon “axis” five feet across. The structure is Roman and is obviously the base of a large tomb, though it has been thought by some to have been a Roman lighthouse.”

The Historic England List Entry No. is 1019019.

Sources / References and related websites:-

Benham’s, Colchester — a history and guide, Benham And Company Limited, Colchester, 1946. 

Richmond, I. A., The Pelican History Of England — 1 Roman Britain, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1963.

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1019019

https://www.merseamuseum.org.uk/mmbarrow.php

https://www.eadt.co.uk/news/mersea-mystery-of-the-island-bones-is-finally-solved-1-2246793

https://colchesterheritage.co.uk/monument/mcc6928

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Mersea

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Lower Colgarth Hill Burial Mound, Near Bell Busk, North Yorkshire

Lower Colgarth Hill, near Bell Busk (burial mound)

Lower Colgarth Hill, near Bell Busk (burial mound)

    OS grid reference:- SD 90489 57365.  At the foot of Lower Colgarth Hill beside Carseylands road about halfway between Bell Busk and Airton, north Yorkshire, there is a large and prominent Bronze Age burial mound (tumulus), which is close to a footpath and a ruined barn called Allamire Laithe. The burial mound is also called a bowl barrow or round barrow in archaeological terms, although this one is more like a long barrow, due to its size. You will also notice, although quite faint at ground level, that there are ancient cultivation terraces in this field and those close by. From here you get a good view over the River Aire. From Carseylands Hill road, at the south-side of the ruined barn, go 48m up the footpath to where there is a small boulder in the opening of the wall, then via off to the south for 35m – and you will soon see the grassy mound in the field just ahead of you.

Lower Colgarth Hill, near Bell Busk (a large grassy burial mound).

Lower Colgarth Hill, near Bell Busk (and the large, grassy burial mound).

Lower Colgarth Hill near Bell Busk (the long-shaped burial mound)

Lower Colgarth Hill (and the long-shaped burial mound)

    The burial mound (tumulus) here at the foot of Lower Colgarth Hill is rather oddly-shaped, especially at its SW side, where it may have been dug into at some point in the past, although originally it was almost certainly bowl-shaped or bowl barrow-shaped; at a distance it has the look of a long barrow because of this. It measures roughly 11m (36 ft) long and 5.6m (18 ft) wide and is about 5 feet high. This was probably the place where a chieftain or a high-ranking individual of a local tribe was buried – either in the late Neolithic or the Bronze Age. Maybe more than one individual was buried in the mound and, or, quite possibly other members of the chieftain’s family.

Lower Colgarth Hill (and the grassy mound).

Lower Colgarth Hill (and the grassy mound).

    However, nothing more seems to be known about the burial mound on Lower Colgarth Hill – which seems to have been overlooked by antiquarians of the past few centuries, although Harry Speight does mention some other ancient sites in Craven; and I don’t know whether the tumulus ‘here’ has ever been excavated.  The cultivation terraces in the same field, and in other fields close by, are obviously very ancient. They are of a similar age, perhaps, to the ancient field systems in the Grassington area, which are considered to be Iron Age. Some cultivation terraces, however, are of a more recent age, probably Medieval?

Sources and related websites:-

http://www.kirkbymalham.info/KMI/malhamdale/speight.html

http://www.skiptoncastle.co.uk/history-of-craven.asp?page=17

http://www.docbrown.info/docspics/dales/dspage52.htm

                                                              © Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities.


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Little Painley Burial Mound, Gisburn, Lancashire

Little Painley tumulus, near Gisburn, Lancs.

Little Painley tumulus, near Gisburn, Lancs.

    OS grid reference: SD 8284 5012. In the middle of a farmer’s field at Little Painley near Gisburn, Lancashire, there is a clump of tall trees which surround an ancient burial mound/bowl barrow. The very distinctive low mound is still quite prominent even after thousands of years. However it is now surrounded by a barbed-wire fence and also the site is more difficult to reach from the road due to a gate and recently erected fences, although as these fields are for the growing of crops and vegitables in the Summer months, I suppose that is to be expected. The burial mound (tumulus) is located on the left-hand side of the A682 (Long Preston) road 1¼ miles to the north of Gisburn church and just past ‘The Temple’, which is an 18th century tree-clad mound. Little Painley prehistoric burial mound is situated on private land and on a low hill surrounded by fields that have crops growing in them in the Summer months. So, if you do wish to take a closer look it is advisable to ‘keep’ to the fence-side of the field.

Little Painley Burial Mound, near Gisburn, close-up.

Little Painley Burial Mound, near Gisburn, close-up.

    The barrow stands on a low hill at the eastern side of the River Ribble and is said to have a diameter of 20m (68 ft) and is maybe 2-3 feet high. It was built of earth and stones in the Bronze Age – sometime between 2,500-1,600 BC. There is a surrounding ditch 2.5m (6 ft) across and 0.5m (1 ft 6 inches) deep. At the SW side there are traces of an outer bank some 2.5m (6 ft) in width and about 0.3m ( nearly 1 ft) high, although these features are often hard to see properly due to the trees, and in the Summer months – the long grass. The trees here were planted in the 1960s. When this barrow was excavated in the early 1900s one or more collared funery urns of the ‘Pennine type’ were found indicating that there was probably a settlement near by. The author John Dixon in his work ‘Journeys Through Brigantia’ (Volume One), suggests the settlement was centred on Bolton-by-Bowland, where a number of Bronze Age axe heads have been found. It is perhaps likely, then, that a chieftain and his close family were buried here at the Little Painley barrow.

    And John Dixon goes on to say: “These isolated finds provide a tantalizing insight into Bronze Age society. However, the evidence we have tends to pose as many questions as they resolve. A ditched bowl barrow is evidence of a society with a level of social organization capable of converting surplus economic value into funeral monuments. This society suppor-ted a primitive ceramic and metallurgy technology and must have conducted trade with people outside of Craven, and it was probably a hierarchical warrior society.”

    Sir E.B. Tylor in his work of ‘Anthropology’ (Vol II) says something very similar. He says that: “Prehistoric burial-places in our own country are still wonders to us for the labour they must have cost their barbaric builders. Most conspicuous are the great burial-mounds of earth or cairns of stones. Some of the largest of these appear to date from the stone-age. But their use lasted on through the bronze-age into the iron-age.”

    About ½ a mile to the north beside the River Ribble, just south of Paythorne bridge, stands Castle Haugh, a late 11th century earthwork consisting of a large ditched mound with a ‘motte’ at the centre. This stronghold was probably the residence of Roger the Poitevin, a Norman baron who held the lands around here. He is mentioned in ‘The Domesday Book’ (1086) under the entry for Bernulfeswick (Barnoldswick) in Craven.

Sources:

Dixon, John & Phillip, Journeys Through Brigantia (Volume One), Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1990.

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=11487

Tylor, Edward B. (Sir),  Anthropology (Vol II), Watts & Co., London, 1946.


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Bradley Long Cairn, Farnhill, North Yorkshire

Bradley Long Cairn, near Farnhill, north Yorkshire

Bradley Long Cairn, near Farnhill, north Yorkshire.

    OS grid reference: SE 0092 4756. At the north-eastern side of Bradley Low Moor, near Farnhill, in north Yorkshire, is the Bradley Long Cairn, which is also known as ‘Bradley Long Barrow’ and sometimes ‘Black Hill Long Cairn’. Now, sadly, it is a large pile of stones and an uncovered oblong-shaped cist grave that has suffered from much disturbance over the years, and maybe robbery in some shape or form. Some 40m to the south-west is a much destroyed ring cairn, and yet a third cairn lies 50m to the north-west but this is hardly visible beneath the thick heather. The site can easily be reached from the hamlet of Farnhill, and then along Crag Lane which skirts the western-side of the moor. Just opposite the house go through the gate and follow the footpath up onto the moor in an easterly direction for 290m, then via off to the right in the direction of the wall for 360m. You will soon see the long barrow and ring cairn as piles of grey stones in the heather. The village of Kildwick is about a mile to the south.

Bradley Long Cairn.

Bradley Long Cairn, near Farnhill, North Yorks.

    The Bradley long cairn measures roughly 76m (249 ft) in length by 30m (98 ft) in width at its widest part and on its eastern flank it is up to 2.4m (8 feet) high, although it is difficult to make out due to the long heather which grows in abundance on the higher parts of the moor. Sadly the cairn has suffered greatly from disturbance over the years and maybe from robbery, especially at the E side; today its oblong-shaped cist grave is 1.5m deep and is open to the elements and its large flat covering stone broken up and partially missing, but its side stones are largerly still intact. In 1930 this Neolithic barrow was excavated by archaeologists and its funery contents (one single human burial) taken away to safety. The thinking is that during the Bronze Age a round cairn was built onto it at the S side. There is no sign of the earthern mound that would have formed the covering to this megalithic structure, only the piles of stones survives; some of the outer stones in the large pile are nicely shaped, while many others are very smooth – very typical of this grey gritstone.

    Author John Dixon in his work ‘Journeys Through Brigantia’, volume one, tells us that: “The excavation revealed a stone cist, 6½ feet long and 3 feet wide, some 60 feet from the eastern end of the barrow. The cist was formed by four stone slabs set on end with a fifth forming a ‘capstone’. A sixth slab lay  on the floor and this covered a deposit of unburnt but smashed human bones. Cremated were also found in the cist. The mound contained a number of standing stones, but none of these were formed a second cist. The barrow may represents a degenerate example of a megalithic chambered tomb.”

    John Dixon goes on to tell us about the probable construction of Bradley Long Cairn. He says that: “The building of such a large monument would have consumed an appreciable share of the community’s time, energy and effort. Its construc-tion and use would to some extent have performed a community function, although it was probably directed by and for a small elite.

“The building of the tomb would take twenty or so able-bodied persons over thirty days. Such an investment of labour would have to be made over a period of time, and at times when there was little farming activity. It is reasonable to sup-pose that they used the labour potential availability of neighbouring groups to join in the construction work. Given a suitable incentive — a great feast with amusement and exchanges providing a forum for social intercourse, co-operative effort can work to build impressive monuments.

    “The Bradley cairn reflects the importance of the social occasion and the passionate concern for the group status in Neolithic society. The long cairn would become the principal feature of the territory, which may itself have been known by the name of the monument. Its construction would be one of the steps such a group would have to take in order to estab-lish its identity with the regional clan.”

Black Hill Ring Cairn.

Black Hill Ring Cairn.

Black Hill Ring Cairn.

Black Hill Ring Cairn.

    Some 40m to the south-west of the long cairn at (OS grid ref: SE 0087 4753) is a much destroyed round cairn. It is often referred to as the ‘Black Hill Cairn’. This round cairn from the Neolithic age is sadly now just a large pile of stones – with four slight depressions at intervals in the inner part of the monument – where they are no stones. These are perhaps the result of stone robbery, and not burials. This cairn measures approx. 30m x 24m.

    And yet a third cairn which is also known as the ‘Black Hill Ring Cairn’ is only just visible 50m to the north-west at (OS grid ref: SE 0081 4756) but is now ‘virtually’ lost in the thick heather. This is a ring cairn or maybe a cairn circle, and it has a diameter of 20m. There is just a scattering of stones on its heather-clad mound.

Sources:

Dixon, John & Phillip, Journeys Through Brigantia, (Volume One), Walks in Craven, Airedale and Wharfedale, Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1990.

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1010440

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=11624

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=11625


Bleara Lowe, Earby, Lancashire

Bleara Lowe heather-clad burial mound near Earby, Lancashire

Bleara Lowe burial mound near Earby, Lancashire.

    OS grid reference: SD 9258 4543. On the bleak and windswept Bleara Moor 1 mile east of Earby and above Broom House Farm, Lancashire, stands the prominent little mound known as Bleara Lowe, which is in fact a Bronze Age burial mound (tumulus). It is usually covered in thick heather and not easy to spot at first sight. And 200 metres to the west there is a second burial mound which is next to a wall and some old quarry workings. The site is located along West Road which runs north from Colne to Carleton-in-Craven, just after Broom House Farm and opposite the entrance to Salt Pye Farm. However there are “no” designated footpaths going in the direction of the two burial mounds – as they stand on ‘private land’. You can ‘probably’ visit Bleara Lowe by heading east out of Earby and coming up onto the moor from there.

    The round-shaped, almost conical mound or bowl barrow is between 4-5 feet high and approximately 20 yards across, according to pastscape. It appears to have an outer bank but the heather makes for difficulty in seeing this. There is a hollow 3m x 1.5m and 0.4m deep in the middle (pastscape), although this is possibly the result of ‘an invalid’ excavation by someone other than archaeologists; no proper excavations have been carried out here and so next-to-nothing is known about its history, other than it is probably of a Bronze-Age date. However, authors John & Philip Dixon ‘Journeys Through Brigantia’, Vol 1, say that: “Upon excavation the mound produced several sherds of Bronze-Age pottery. These can now be seen in the Craven Museum, Skipton.” 

    Bleara Lowe is aligned with other local burial mounds, cairns and earthworks, and is said to be situated on an ancient trackway linking Boulsworth Hill, where there are similar burial mounds at Ell Clough. And 1½ miles to the north-east, on Elslack Moor, is Pinhaw Beacon at 388 feet.

Tumulus above Broom House Farm, Bleara Moor, Lancashire.

Tumulus above Broom House Farm, Bleara Moor, Lancashire.

    Some 230 metres to the west of the Bleara Lowe mound at (OS grid ref: SD 9243 4538) is a second tumulus, burial mound, cairn or bowl barrow. This is situated close to the wall above Broom House Farm and next to what looks like an old quarry-working, now grassed over and partly covered in the dreaded heather. This does, however, have a substantial and well-defined oval-shaped outer bank and a possible inner ditch. It measures roughly 8m x 7m and is 4 feet high. But, once again, no archaeological excavations have been carried out on this second tumulus. It seems to be aligned with Pendle Hill to the west, and is located in a ‘splendid setting’ on the ridge of Bleara Moor, with good panoramic views over to the west and east.

    Some 250m to the west of the 2nd tumulus at (OS grid ref: SD 919 457) on the western slopes of Bleara Moor, east of Coolham Lane, there is a cairn-field where there are a number of small burial mounds or round cairns scattered around but, once again, covered by heather. This probable “new discovery” was found by Paul Bennett and is discussed by him on The Northern Antiquarian website (see below).

Sources:

Dixon, John & Philip., Journeys Through Brigantia, Volume One: Walks in Craven, Airedale and Wharfedale, Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1990.

http://www.pastscape.org/hob.aspx?hob_id=46285#aR

https://megalithix.wordpress.com/2010/05/04/bleara-moor-cairnfield/


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Ell Clough Cairn Circle, Boulsworth Hill, Lancashire

Ell Clough Ring Cairn on the lower slope of Boulsworth Hill.

Ell Clough Ring Cairn on the lower slope of Boulsworth Hill.

    OS grid reference: SD 9019 3412. The Ell Clough (Hell Clough) cairn circle, ring cairn and burial mound, is located on the side of Boulsworth Hill, in Lancashire – with commanding panoramic views over Thursden Valley and, in the distance Pendle Hill. It is named after the nearby stream which runs down slope through Ell Clough. At the junction of three lanes in Thursden Valley walk up the signposted footpath right to the very top of the hill and then via right along the trackway to reach the tumulus, which is located just where the track curves around the ancient site. A little further along the track there is a second tumulus, although this one is now hardly recognizable at ground level. The village of Trawden is 3 miles to the west.

    This tumulus is in a reasonably good condition although the small inner mound has suffered from being disturbed by excavations and other things, and the outer circle of stones has long since gone to nearby walls, but the circular earthworks of this ring cairn are still very well-defined despite the ravages of time and the weather conditions upon the bleak, windswept hillside of Boulsworth – some 350 metres above Thursden Valley.

Ell Clough Ring Cairn on Boulsworth Hill.

Ell Clough Ring Cairn on Boulsworth Hill.

    In 1886 Archaeological excavations took place here and these yielded a mid to late Bronze-Age funery urn. It would seem that originally there were seven standing stones in the outer circular bank, but these have long since gone. There are four stones on the banking but these are not the original ones. Sadly the stones were robbed away to build field walls. The monument measures approximately 19m diagonally by 17m across. The outer bank is still quite substantial as is the inner ditch which would originally have been quite deep; while at the SE side there is what could be an entrance or maybe damage. The small ‘denuded mound’ near the centre originally contained the burials as a funery urn was excavated from here back in 1886. This measured 12 inches x 10 inches and had a 4″ base and was carved with various patterns. An adult and a child’s remains were found in the urn and also a few other artefacts including a Bronze pin.

    It is of interest here to note that the monument seems to be aligned with Broadbank Earth Circle, Walton Spire and Pendle Hill, or is this just a coincidence?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA    In the very well respected local antiquarian work ‘The History Of Marsden And Nelson’ by Mr Walter H. Bennett, we are told that: “The existence of Bronze Age burials on Bleara Moor on the old Colne to Skipton road, at Catlow, at Shelfield (possibly) and at Ell Clough above Thursden Valley may point to a pre-historic track connecting the Whalley-Barnoldswick-Leeds route with that between Whalley-Mereclough-Heptonstall.”

    Some 100 metres to the north and close by the trackway (Os grid ref: SD 9027 3412) there is another tumulus that is similar in size, however this is now hardly recognizable “as such” at ground level. There is just a trace of a circular earthwork and possible ditch. And there is a third tumulus some 240m to the north-west at (Os grid ref: SD 9051 3421). This is located on the bank beside a stream but once again it is very faint and hardly recognizable at ground-level.

Sources:

Bennett, W., The History Of Marsden And Nelson, Nelson Corporation, Nelson, Lancashire, 1946 & 1957. Diagram of Ell Clough by Mr Jack Wilcock.

http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/1692/hellclough.html#fieldnotes


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Newgrange Passage-Tomb, Co. Meath, Southern Ireland

Newgrange (photo by Shira - for Wikipedia).

Newgrange (photo by Shira – for Wikipedia).

    OS grid reference O 0073 7272. The ancient megalithic tomb complex of Newgrange in Co. Meath stands in the middle of a field, just north of the River Boyne (Bend of the Boyne), 3 miles south-east of Slane, and is said to date from the Neolithic period over 5,000 years ago. The tomb is surrounded by a large stone circle of a similar age, though many of the stones are missing. It can be reached on country lanes from the N51 Balfeddock road, east of the village of Slane, and via Knowth, where there is another megalithic tomb – along with a third ancient site at Dowth – they are all linked together and known as ‘the Boyne Cemetery Complexe’ (Brú na Bóinne). But the passage-tomb here at Newgrange is of great interest due to the many prehistoric rock carvings/petroglyphs – both inside and outside of the monument. Although the megalithic tomb has been partially restored to its original shape, it is still a big tourist attraction with up to 200,000 visitors coming from all over the world each year. The town of Drogheda is 5 miles to the east. Newgrange is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Entrance To Newgrange in 1905 (QuartierLatin1968 - for Wikipedia)

The Entrance To Newgrange in 1905 (QuartierLatin1968 – for Wikipedia)

    The Newgrange passage-tomb is said to date from the Neolithic – around 3,300 to 3,200 BC, or according to some historians 2,500 BC, while the stone circle surrounding it ‘probably’ dates from about the same time, though some archaeologists have suggested 2,000 BC. The grassy, drum-shaped mound covering the chambered tomb is a staggering 250 feet (80) metres in diameter and 49 feet (15) metres high – originally it would have stood much higher than this, maybe up to 150 feet. Around the edge of the mound there are 97 large, revetted kerbstones, many displaying symbolic carved geometric designs: spirals, diamonds, lozengers, cup-and-ring and sun motifs, on all their faces. Author Rodney Castleden in his article ‘The Ring of Stone’ for ‘Exploring The Supernatural’ magazine says: “Can we claim this continuous wall of giant stones as a stone circle? Do we ignore it because it is the containing wall of a burial mound?

The Newgrange Decorated Entrance Stone.

Newgrange Decorated Entrance Stone.

    At the entrance to the tomb there is a highly decorative carved stone. This huge entrance stone is 10½ foot long and 4½ foot high and has beautiful spirals carvings; this is regarded “as one of the finest achievements of European Neolithic art”, according to Cathal Coyle in his article on ‘Famous Landmarks’ for the ‘Ireland’s Own’ magazine. Above the entrance a huge, flat slab-stone ‘seems’ to holds up the above facial walling. The authors Janet & Colin  Bord in their acclaimed work ‘Mysterious Britain’, say of Newgrange passage-tomb:

   “The mound consisted of a cairn of pebbles, with white quartz stones on the outer surface. The designs on the stones are probably symbolic, not just decorative, and the spirals may represent the maze of life.

   “The kings of Tara were buried here, according to the legend. Newgrange, which is one of the many burial mounds in the pagan cemetery of Brug-Na-Boinne, also has associations with the Tuatha de Danann, ancient rulers of Ireland, of whom Dagda, Lug the Irish sea-god, and others were buried in this important and remarkable area.”

Plan of Newgrange.

Plan of Newgrange.

    The passage-way leading into the tomb chamber is 60 foot (18.2 metres) long and is surrounded on all sides by large slab-stones, some of which are decorated with geometric symbols: triangles, chevrons and lozenges. This leads on into a cross-shaped chamber with massive stone basins that would have held offerings, or burials; above the chamber is a corbelled roof. No mortar was used, and the chamber is still waterproof – even after 5,000 years! But in fact there are three small chambers inside the mound. Author Cathal Coyle says that in order to construct this roof: “the builders overlapped layers of large rocks until the roof could be sealed with a capstone, six metres above the floor.” The corbelled roof contains the famous ‘triple spiral stone’ carved onto one of its stone slabs; the authors Janet & Colin Bord in (Ancient Mysteries of Britain) call these spiral-carved stones – ‘labyrinthine in concept’.

   “At dawn on the Winter solstice, the shortest day of the year and for a number of days before and after, a shaft of sunlight enters the chamber through an opening in the roof box and penetrates the passage, shining onto the floor of the inner chamber. The beam illuminates the inner chamber for just 17 minutes. To the Neolithic culture of the Boyne Valley, the winter solstice marked the start of the New Year – a sign of nature’s rebirth and promising renewed life to animals and humans” – (Coyle, 2015).

   Outside the tomb and surrounding it there is a circle of 12 stones, there would have originally been 35, and two of these lost stones would have stood at the south-side, opposite the tomb entrance, at either side of the so-called ‘surviving Great Circle stones’, and the others at the NW, N, NE and SE sides although there is great uncertainty about the exact number of missing stones. This circle of stones was probably built about 3,300 BC though some archaeologists suggest it dates from 2,000 BC. But is it a “true” stone circle? Author Rodney Castleden says of the circle:-

   “O’Kelley, who excavated the mound thought that some of the stones, missing from the circle, had been re-used in the ring of kerbstones, although he could not prove it. Maybe there was a change of plan and the Great Circle was never completed; there is a lot of uncertainty about the missing stones.

   “As far as we can tell this huge ring of stones at Newgrange, a hundred metres in diameter, is the earliest one of all. Most of them have not been radiocarbon dated, but from the evidence available the Newgrange Great Circle seems to be the ancestor of the British stone circles.

   “The custom of building stone circles spread rapidly as the country-wide trade in stone axes got under way. Axes made of distinctive and rare rocks can be traced back very precisely to the Neolithic factories where they were made. We can tell, for instance, that some axes used at Stone-henge were imported from Cornwall and that some came from Snowdonia and that others came from Great Langdale in the Lake District.”

    Author Cathal Coyle gives us more on the legends and myths of Newgrange. He say’s that: “According to the ancient mythology, the Tuatha Dé Danann (the People of the Goddess Danu, who according to tradition ruled Ireland before the coming of the Celts) were said to have built New-grange as a burial place for their chief, Dagda Mór, and his three sons. One of the sons, named Aonghus of the Brugh. It is believed that he was owner of the Brugh land, and that a smaller mound between Newgrange and the Boyne was owned by the Dagda.

   ” The highly renowned author, Geoffrey Ashe, in his great work ‘Mythology Of The British Isles’, says of the Tuatha De Danann that:-

   “The king of the Tuatha De Danann was Nuadu. He is the Irish equivalent of Nudd, Gwyn’s father, and, like him, is an embodiment of the Celtic god whom the Britons called Nodons. When the Tuatha De Danann fought their forerunners the Fir Bolg, Nuadu lost a hand in battle, It was replaced by a silver one, so that he became Nuadu Airgetlam, Nuadu of the Silver Hand. Later he had to contend with the sinister Fomorians as they inflicted various disasters. Their chief was Balor, who had an evil eye. To defeat them Nuadu temporarily resigned power to Lug, a hero of rare versatility and resource. Lug overwhelmed the Formorians with magic. Balor, however, had slain Nuadu in the battle. It was after this that the Milesians occupied Ireland, and the Tuatha De Danann faded into the Otherworld and the realm of faerie.”

Newgrange (Richard Gallagher 2003 - Wikipedia).

Newgrange (copyright Richard Gallagher 2003 – Wikipedia).

   Cathal Coyle goes on to say that: “Newgrange was ‘re-discovered’ in 1699 by the removal of material for road building. The landowner, Charles Campbell, needed some stones and asked his workers to carry some stones away from the cairn. When those stones were moved, the entrance to the tomb was uncovered. An extensive archaeological excavation took place at Newgrange from 1962 until 1975, and the roof was was re-discovered in 1963.” And, says the author: “An interesting phenomenon associated with Newgrange is the discovery of Roman coins over the past four centuries. Many have been found at the site, the first recorded find of a coin was in 1699. These Roman coins were still being found in the 1960s when Newgrange was being excavated — some of them in mint condition. Whether they were buried here by native Irish worshippers or pilgrims from the Roman world, remains a mystery” – (Coyle, 2015).

Sources:-

Ashe, Geoffrey., Mythology Of The British Isles, Methuen, London SW3, 1993.

Bord, Janet & Colin., Mysterious Britain, Paladin Books, London W1X, 1984.

Bord, Janet & Colin., Ancient Mysteries of Britain, Diamond Books, London, 1994.

Castleden, Rodney., Ring of Stones – Part 1 Key To An Ancient World, Exploring The Supernatural, March 1987.

Coyle, Cathal., Famous Landmarks, Ireland’s Own, Wexford, Ireland, (November, 2015, No 5,523 & various dates).

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?lat=53.69167&lon=6.47472

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newgrange

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newgrange#/media/File:Newgrange.JPG                                                                                                                               Photo Credit: Shira∼commonswiki (Creative Commons 2.5 Attribution).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newgrange#/media/File:Newgrange_ireland_750px.jpg                                                                                                            Photo credit: copyright Richard Gallagher 2003.