Megalithic Winter Solstice

Newgrange big draw at Winter Solstice From December 19 to 23 - if the weather cooperates - 20 lucky peoplea day will crowd into an ancient Irish monument's main chamber.There, they'll bathe in 17 minutes of light put off by the rising sunon the shortest days of the year. This year about 28,000 peopleapplied to take part in the ritual at the Newgrange monument, locatedin the Irish countryside in County Meath, reports the Brú na BóinneVisitor Center. According to Edwin Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatoryin Los Angeles, California, the monument incorporates knowledge thatcould only have been gained through precise astronomicalobservations. "The people who built it knew about the winter solstice- knew when it occurred, knew where the sun would rise - and built amonument that took advantage of that event and incorporated itsymbolically into the monument," he said. The 62-foot-long (19-meter-long) passage faces the wintersolstice sunrise. A little window above the door allows light fromthe rising solstice sun to reach the depths of the burial chamberfrom about 8:58 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. local time. Newgrange is the most elaborate of several passage tombs in therich agricultural lands along the Boyne River about 30 miles (50kilometers) north of Dublin. The number of area monuments "suggeststhis wasn't a small rural community of a few farmers and herders,"Krupp said. "We're seeing something there certainly bordering onchiefdomship, if not actually a chiefdomship." According to Krupp,the full story behind the purpose of Newgrange and its kin is stillshrouded in mystery. "We don't have an owner's manual, and there isno writing," he noted. However, archaeologists have pieced together some of the story."It is very deliberately designed and constructed to capture thelight of the rising sun at the winter solstice, to allow that beam oflight to fall on the innermost chambers of it-a place where in factthe remains of the honored dead were incorporated," Krupp said.Scratch marks in the window above the door indicate that rocks wererepeatedly removed and put in place to open and close the window,suggesting a regular gathering at the monument for a winter solsticeritual. "The winter solstice is a crucial moment, in that it marksthe time the sun has reached the depths of winter-its darkest moment,its death, and its rebirth," Krupp added. Today as many as 200,000 people a year come to visit Newgrange,making it the most visited archaeological site in Ireland. Access tothe monument is controlled by the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Center. Thesolstice is the most sought-after time to visit the monument. So in2000 the visitor center switched to a lottery system for tickets,deeming luck-of-the-draw fairer than a ten-year-long wait list.Schoolchildren pick the winners in late September or early October.For five days around the winter solstice, 20 people a day are grantedaccess to the chamber at sunrise. And on the day of the actual wintersolstice-usually December 21-several hundred people also gatheroutside Newgrange to watch the sunrise.Source: National Geographic News (7 December 2006)



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