In the category ‘my hunebed’ we invite people to write about their own personal thoughts about hunebeds and megalithic monuments. Here is a story of Peter van den Hoek.
Of all the prehistoric buildings in Ireland, Newgrange is without a doubt the most famous. It consists of a dolmen with a huge mound with a diameter of up to 80 meters, see ground plan Newgrange Mound. Professor Michael O’ Kelly discovered in 1967 that the dolmen is aligned with the sunrise during midwinter. Then the sun shines on rise through a kind of upper window (Roof Box) into the room of the dolmen, see ground plan Newgrange Dolmen. In itself there is nothing strange about this because it was customary to align dolmens to this sun position. What struck me as an Astronomer was that the alignment of the dolmen did not seem to be so precise at all. That raised questions for me because during my research into such dolmens, I was surprised again and again by their very precise alignment. Take for example ‘Dolmen de Menga’¹ the largest dolmen in the world, whose right wall is illuminated by the rising moon to exactly the back corner when the moon makes her longest orbit across the sky. The builders have been able to place the stones up to 180 tons heavy to the degree. It’s really incredibly!?! Personally, I do not believe that the builders of Newgrange made a mistake in the alignment of the dolmen. Reason enough for me to dive a little deeper into it. At first, I thought that this would be a double alignment between sun and moon, as for example with ‘Mound of the Hostages’² on top of the nearby ‘Hill of Tara’, but what I discovered was even more wonderful! It turned out to be an alignment on the three brightest lights in the sky; sun, moon and venus! In this article I will explain how I see that.
In the literature about Newgrange it is called a Passage Tomb. Personally, I think this representation is too simple for what Newgrange actually is. I think it was an important meeting place to celebrate, remember, reflect and honor. It served as a Temple and place to gather, just like our medieval Cathedrals. We are not saying that they are only graves because people have been buried in them. This is not a good description of these beautiful buildings to honor God, Angels and Saints. That is why I prefer to call this corridor with room a dolmen, because the word grave is not used here. The hill is sometimes mentioned in the literature as a mound, which refers to an earthen hill, or cairn, which refers to a hill of stones. In fact, Newgrange is a mix of both, but at first glance I think it looks most like a mound, so that is why I use this name in this article.
As I have already indicated, the dolmen of Newgrange seems to be aligned with the sunrise of midwinter. Then the sunlight shines through a window above the corridor (Roof Box) through the corridor into the room. This alignment is not entirely precise! In the time of construction, around 3200 BC. The sun rose during midwinter at 132°, see ground plan Newgrange Dolmen, while the central axis through corridor, roof box and room can be found at 136 °. So, this is a difference of 4° to be precise. This seems small but is enough to let the sunlight not shine directly into the room during rise. The light only collides with the stones of the corridor, see ground plan. The dolmen is built in such a way that the sun’s light only reaches the room when the sun has turned to 134°.
Now there is something special going on with this 134°. During the construction of the monument, this was exactly the point where the moon rose halfway between its minor and major standstill, so exactly in the middle of it. Unlike the sun, the moon does not have a fixed southernmost point to rise. Sometimes she rises less southerly than the sun. Then we speak of a minor lunar standstill. Every year, this point shifts to a maximum greater than the sun’s southernmost rising point. During such an event we speak of a major lunar standstill. Exactly halfway between these two extreme points the moon rose at 134° and shone directly through the roof box into the room of the dolmen. The builders have indeed been very precise to allow the moonlight in the room in addition to the sun and with an accuracy of one degree. Therefore, the alignment of the dolmen differs slightly from the precise point of sunrise during midwinter. This is done to create a double alignment to the sun and moon!
But why isn’t the central axis through the dolmen precisely laid out at 134°? Then the light of the rising sun and moon could have been seen exactly at the moment suprême! The builders also had a very good reason for this, because this dolmen has a third alignment on the planet venus. This planet rose once every eight years in its southernmost standstill position at 136° during construction and that is exactly the angle of the central axis through the entire structure. One dolmen for the alignment of the three brightest lights in the sky. It’s really incredible how ingeniously the builders have done this!
The room of the dolmen consists of three niches, see ground plan Newgrange Dolmen. In the niche where the light falls, three spirals have been carved in stone C10. I believe that this trinity or triskelion represent sun, moon and venus, see drawing Newgrange Triskelion. The two right spirals are connected, as you can see. This also applies to our sun and venus, because venus can always be found near the sun, for the reason it is an inner planet. It is actually as if they are connected by an invisible elastic. The sun is then the lower and largest spiral and venus the upper and smallest spiral.
The left spiral represents the moon. Seen from earth, it is the same size as the sun and so are the two spirals. Unlike venus, the moon goes its own way and can even appear opposite the sun. Therefore, this spiral is looser connected to the others.
Together the spirals form a kind of trinity! This concept can often be found in the awareness of many ancient civilizations. Take the Egyptian culture for example. For them, the mighty constellation of Orion stood for the God Osiris. His wife Isis was represented by the brightest star Sirius and their son Horus by our sun. Together they formed the trinity of Egyptian culture and as such could be found on many temple walls. Christianity is also familiar with this trinity in the form of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but the concept for this really goes back thousands of years.
Another indication that seems to strengthen my view comes from the richly decorated kerbstone in front of the entrance of the dolmen, see drawing Newgrange Entrance Stone. On the front of this stone are five complete spirals notched. I believe these five spirals represent the visible planets of our solar system. These are in order from the sun; mercury, venus, mars, jupiter and saturn. The second spiral from the right ends in a very deep groove right in the middle of the entrance to the dolmen. Now let venus be the second planet of our solar system, rising exactly at 136° in the middle of the corridor, seen from the dolmen.
In my opinion, the kerbstones that border the mound also refer to venus, see ground plan Newgrange Mound. These 97 stones form a counting system to record the synodic cycle of this planet. This is the period in which venus again occupies exactly the same position in relation to the earth and sun, like the moon from full to full. Six rounds is almost exactly, except for two days, the synodic cycle of venus that takes an average of 584 days. In reality, this cycle always differs by a few days and on a period of more than a year and a half this is negligible. But also the synodic cycle of mars can be very well followed with this counting system. Then eight rounds are needed and the difference is only four days with the average cycle that lasts 780 days and therefore more than two years. Coincidentally, mars in its two-year southernmost standstill position rose at exactly the same point as venus in her eight-year cycle at 136° during the construction of Newgrange. Because venus always rises in the middle of the day during this cycle, it can never be observed with the eye, but this does not apply to mars. The rise of mars in this position can be seen regularly and thus form a gaugepoint for the rising of venus. How handsome of the builders huh? With this I want to show that with both the alignment of the dolmen itself and the kerbstones that surround the mound, the standstill and synodic cycles of both planets could very well be followed. I suspect that the great stone circle of Avebury³ (Great Britain) with 98 stones was also used to count the synodic cycles of planets because a number of rounds are very close to the synodic cycle of venus, mars and jupiter. I have already written an article about this with the title: ‘Avebury and Newgrange as Planetary Calendars’³.
As the kerbstones seem to refer to venus and mars, the stone circle around the mound does this towards the moon, see ground plan Newgrange Mound. At an equal distance from each other there were probably 19 stones posted here. Unfortunately, a number of them are now missing. This is Meton’s cycle in years. If you look at today’s moon, in 19 years time it will be in exactly the same moon phase and in the same constellation as today. In addition, 19 years is also the time between two minor or major lunar standstills. The stones good have been used to count of when the moon shone halfway between these extreme positions exactly in the room of the dolmen during rise. This happens every 9 and 10 years in between, so together 19 years. Sometimes this is twice 9 years because the average is 18.6 years. Seen from the dolmen’s point of view, Stone 19 roughly indicates this position halfway through these extreme standstills. But these extreme standstill positions are also roughly marked with an extra stone on both sides of stone 19, see ground plan. Also in our time, every 9 or 10 years, you can still observe how the light of the rising moon shines in the room of the dolmen halfway through its extreme standstill positions. The next opportunity for this is in 2029. Spring offers the best opportunity for this because the moon rises in this position at night. On March 7 and 8 of that year, the moon shines in her last quarter during rise exactly in the room of the dolmen. I would love to experience this special moment and capture it for everyone with my camera. I hope for permission from ‘Heritage Ireland’, the organisation that manages this beautiful building!?!
Peter van den Hoek
Nieuwstraat 22 D
3811 JZ Amersfoort