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Newgrange, Ireland

Newgrange, located in County Meath is the most famous of all Irish prehistoric sites. It is known as a passage tomb. Originally built c. 3200 BC, it lay lost for centuries until the late 17th century. It was much restored between 1962 and 1975, under the supervision of Prof Brian O'Kelly, Dept. of Archaeology, University College, Cork (now called the National University of Ireland, Cork). It consists of a vast man-made stone and turf mound retained within a circle of huge kerbstones topped by a high inward-leaning wall of white quartz. A long passage leads to a cruciform (cross-shaped) chamber under the mound. Every year, at the time of the winter solstice, the sun shines directly along this passage into the chamber for about 15 minutes as it rises.

Newgrange appears to have been built as a tomb. The alcoves in the cruciform chamber hold large stone basins into which were placed the bodies of those being laid to rest. The alignment with the sun is too precise to have occurred by chance. It is speculated that the sun formed an important part of the religious beliefs of the New Stone Age people who built it. The kerbstones around the outside of the passage tomb and some of the stones inside are engraved with patterns of spirals and zigzags.

Near Newgrange are many other passage tombs, the largest being Knowth and Dowth. These were all built around the same time as Newgrange. Together, they are some of the oldest man-made buildings in the world.

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