The Rolling Stones of Newgrange

By Eriksen, Palle | Antiquity, September 2006 | Go to article overview

The Rolling Stones of Newgrange


Eriksen, Palle, Antiquity


In his paper 'Newgrange--a view from the platform' Gabriel Cooney accepts that the quartz/ granite layer at Newgrange was never part of a wall; instead it constituted a structure--a platform--placed on the ground. This new view was first put forward by Flemming Kaul in 1995 and developed in 2004, in a paper that denounced the hideous white wall of O'Kelly's reconstruction (Eriksen 2004). But if there was no wall, one has to explain the astonishing masses of mound-fill at Newgrange. The mound-fill, mainly consisting of head-size stones, covered and hid the passage-grave and its kerbstones until the discovery of the passage-grave in 1699. In front of the kerbstones there was--before Michael O'Kelly's excavation--a lot of 'loose stones', which he explained as slip from the mound. Put them back, and you have an enormous mound, the fill of which, according to O'Kelly, can only be kept in place by an enormous wall. Gabriel Cooney does not follow this line. Instead he complements and develops the idea of the platform and its continued use through the Neolithic and the Beaker period. But the platform and the mound belong to the same structure: Newgrange. If there was never a retaining wall the great mass of stones from the mound fill which covered the kerbstones and the platform of quartz/granite are an enigma.

The only reasonable explanation is that Newgrange is a multi-period mound, and the indications for this are strong (Eriksen 2004). If you study the long section of O'Kelly's excavation-trench 10m east of the entrance (O'Kelly 1982: 69), you can distinguish four to five possible phases with three corresponding vegetation layers (Eriksen 2004: Fig. 11). In short, there was first a passage-tomb, which may have expanded once or twice, ending up with the quartz/granite layer in front of it. Later in prehistory--perhaps in the Beaker period--the mound with the passage tomb and the quartz/granite layer in front of it was incorporated and hidden by a new mound.

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