Brú na Bóinne - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyne, Ireland

A landscape of light and time

Beam of sunlight entering the chamber of Newgrange on winter solstice (1993) by Brú na Bóinne - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the BoyneUNESCO World Heritage

Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1993, the Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyne refers to the complex of archaeological monuments located in a distinct U-shaped bend formed by the River Boyne. 

Location map from Bru Visitor Experience (1993) by Brú na Bóinne - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the BoyneUNESCO World Heritage

The site can be found around 4.8km to the west of the medieval port town of Drogheda and almost the same distance to the east of the 18th-century village of Slane.

Winter Solstice Illumination of Newgrange Chamber (1993) by Brú na Bóinne - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the BoyneUNESCO World Heritage

Looking at Newgrange from the River Boyne (1993) by Brú na Bóinne - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the BoyneUNESCO World Heritage

The Brú na Bóinne World Heritage property is dominated by the three great passage tombs of Knowth, Newgrange and Dowth, and the clusters of associated monuments found both above and below ground. 

The site was an important ritual, social and economic centre for thousands of years and is now globally recognised as being an outstanding example of Neolithic art and ingenuity.

Twentieth century photo of Newgrange before it was excavated (1993) by Brú na Bóinne - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the BoyneUNESCO World Heritage

There is a long history of research on the megalithic monuments in Brú na Bóinne which goes back as far as the 17th century. 

The modern scientific archaeological investigation of the great mounds of Newgrange and Knowth commenced in the 1960s, under the direction of Professors Michael J. O’Kelly and George Eogan, respectively.

Carving on kerbstone 52, located at the rear of the Newgrange mound (1993) by Brú na Bóinne - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the BoyneUNESCO World Heritage

The archaeological area in the Bend of the Boyne is one of the largest and most important prehistoric and later complexes in Europe. 

It represents the largest assemblage of megalithic art in Europe and no complex compares with the Brú na Bóinne group in density of monuments and high artistic quality.

Sun light entering the chamber of Newgrange from the light box (1993) by Brú na Bóinne - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the BoyneUNESCO World Heritage

At the mid-winter solstice, the rising sun emerges from behind Red Mountain, on the southern bank of the Boyne, and shines directly through the roof box above the entrance to the Newgrange passage tomb, illuminating the chamber at the end of the passage.

Reconstruction drawing of light entering the chamber through the roof-box (1993) by Brú na Bóinne - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the BoyneUNESCO World Heritage

The passage of Newgrange was built on a slight gradient, purposely engineered to direct the beam of light of the rising sun towards the inner chamber. The sacred space of the cruciform chamber is located over 22 meters deep within the cairn.

Misty sunrise over the great stone circle, Newgrange (1993) by Brú na Bóinne - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the BoyneUNESCO World Heritage

The Great Stone Circle which surrounds Newgrange was erected sometime after 2000BC. The twelve surviving stones are irregularly placed but during key times in the year, they cast shadows on the decorated entrance stone, possibly serving as a calendar for the Neolithic community.

Newgrange roof box through which the rising sun shines during the winter solstice (1993) by Brú na Bóinne - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the BoyneUNESCO World Heritage

Recent decades have seen an increased awareness of the wider astronomical significance of the monuments within the property. Investigations have demonstrated a pivotal relationship between the entrance stone at Newgrange and the positioning of the stones of the Great Circle.

Logboat retrieved from the bed of the River Boyne (1993) by Brú na Bóinne - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the BoyneUNESCO World Heritage

Over the centuries, thousands of artefacts have been discovered in the river, mainly as a result of dredging and reclamation works, highlighting its archaeological significance, the important role it has played over time and the archaeological potential it still retains.

Aerial view of main mound and satellite tombs at Knowth (1993) by Brú na Bóinne - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the BoyneUNESCO World Heritage

At Knowth, a large, 95m-diameter mound contains two Neolithic passage tombs and is surrounded by a number of satellite tombs. On the summit of the main mound, an opening gives access to a system of souterrains, which are early medieval underground structures. 

Kerbstone 5 - one of the 127 kerbstones that encircle the main mound at Knowth (1993) by Brú na Bóinne - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the BoyneUNESCO World Heritage

Megalithic art motifs can mainly be found on kerbstones and orthostats, but some have also been identified on the stones of the corbelled roofs of the chambers.

Not all art was meant to be seen; excavation has revealed that some decorative patterns were symbolically chiselled on the hidden, inner surface of the stones. The spiral and the crescentiform patterns visible on Kerbstone 5 at Knowth are common megalithic art motifs.

Archaeologists exposing the entrance to the western passage at Knowth (1993) by Brú na Bóinne - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the BoyneUNESCO World Heritage

On 11th July 1967, archaeological excavation revealed the western passage at Knowth. Just over a year later, on 1 August 1968, the eastern passage, as shown in the image, was found. 

Aerial view of Dowth (1993) by Brú na Bóinne - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the BoyneUNESCO World Heritage

No major scientific archaeological excavation has been carried out at Dowth. A large crater is visible on the monument today as a consequence of both extensive digging, which took place in the 1840s in a quest to discover a central chamber, and unsupervised quarrying of stone. 

The entrance to the smaller tomb of Dowth South (1993) by Brú na Bóinne - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the BoyneUNESCO World Heritage

Approximately 115 kerb stones surround the large mound of Dowth, where two passage tombs are located at a short distance from one another.

Stone basin inside Dowth’s chamber (1993) by Brú na Bóinne - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the BoyneUNESCO World Heritage

A large stone basin lies on the floor of the central chamber of the cruciform passage of Dowth North. Basin stones are hollow chiselled stones in which burnt and unburnt human remains and offerings were placed. The Dowth basin was found in scattered fragments and later restored.

Kerbstone 51 at Dowth (1993) by Brú na Bóinne - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the BoyneUNESCO World Heritage

Located on the eastern side of the Dowth mound, the ‘stone of the seven suns’ is decorated with multiple representations of a circular motif of rays radiating from a circular centre, interpreted as stars or suns, and imbued with astronomical symbolism.

The Geometric Henge viewed from the north-west, with principal features indicated (1993) by Brú na Bóinne - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the BoyneUNESCO World Heritage

Transient cropmark features, which came to light during unusual climatic conditions in the summer of 2018, brought us into close contact with the sophistication of the Neolithic communities who gathered at Brú na Bóinne and who expressed their religious beliefs in the landscape.

A view of the immersing visitor experience at the Brú na Bóinne visitor centre (1993) by Brú na Bóinne - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the BoyneUNESCO World Heritage

Visitors can access Newgrange and Knowth from the recently renovated Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre. They can explore the fully interactive visitor experience and then proceed to the monuments via shuttle bus, where expert OPW guides accompany them on the tour.

Credits: Story

This exhibit was created by Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Office of Public Works : https://heritageireland.ie/

More on Brú na Bóinne - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyne  and World Heritage: whc.unesco.org/en/list/659/

Social Media:

www.facebook.com/newgrangeandknowth/
twitter.com/newgrangeknowt
Photos: Photographic Archive, National Monuments Service, Government of Ireland; Office of Public Works, Government of Ireland

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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