Monday, April 13, 2009

Bru na boinne and the Hill of Tara

Last Monday, I finally got to see Newgrange, an ancient tomb, and the Hill of Tara, which is an early medieval royal site--I'm not sure how else to explain it. It's actually exactly the type of thing that we've been looking at in my archaeology class: a bank-and-ditch enclosure, with more ditches signifying higher status, different 'levels' of enclosed space, and a strategic location overlooking three quarters of the country on a clear day (here's an aerial view, so you can see what the earthwork looks like as a whole). When you're actually on the hill, you can't really see the big picture; it just looks like the ground has turned to waves, and you're walking up and down a green surf. The landscape and the history on this trip were pretty spectacular, and Newgrange itself was so mysterious and creepy--but in a good way! I love the creepy stuff.

The tomb actually reminded me of the Ancient American shamanic artwork that I studied last semester. I wonder if archaeologists have considered that Newgrange may have been the product of a visionary culture? Dichotomies of light/dark, male/female, life/death, and white/black are obvious in the construction, as are themes of fertility/seasons/birth/rebirth, but for me the biggest clue was the recurrence of spirals and zigzags. The guide told us that people have guessed that they are a form of writing, or artwork. Spirals and zigzags are actually really important in shamanic art, because they (along with other motifs like lattices and tunnels) reflect the visionary consciousness; when a person goes into trance, those symbols are part of the first stage of the vision, while spirals themselves are also very eye-like. Inside the tomb, in one of the three niches, there was also a shallow basin that the guide suggested as a place to hold the dead, or possibly to collect blood from a sacrifice--but what about a hallucinogenic substance? Shamanic cultures often associate basins or metates with fertility and visions, and after all, Newgrange is a tomb where people came (perhaps) to journey to the world of the dead...just like having a vision and travelling to the underworld.

It sounds like I'm really going out on a limb here, but there were just so many similarities between Newgrange and Ancient American structures like Chavin de Huantar. They both incorporate the same dichotomies that I already explained, use the concept of difficult entrance and intimidation, and there is a strange similarity between the phallic Lanzon and the spear of light that pierces the interior of Newgrange at every winter solstice. I could say so much more, but I'd like to refrain from treating this blog like an art history paper. I think Newgrange can speak for itself!

side view of Newgrange--mound with a stone facade
the 'difficult' entrance--you had to climb over that rock in order to enter
the stone facade, reconstructed from the original materials at the site. white/black, light/dark, anyone? plus the black stones are EGG-shaped (as is the mound of Newgrange itself)
the kerbstones surrounding the structure
a kerbstone with spirals and zigzags
kerbstone pattern
small mound at the Hill of Tara
it still has a pretty cool view
bank, ditch, bank, ditch, bank...
there was no one there to explain this...but it looks pretty cool. I'm guessing that the pattern on the ground isn't original to the site.
overlooking all of Ireland--on a clear day. But of course, it rained for us.

1 comment:

  1. Just a note... the standing rock with the pattern on the ground... according to Wikipedia and such, that's the Stone of Destiny... where the High Kings of Ireland would be crowned. I'd love to know how to find this on a map of Ireland, as I'm planning my honeymoon there. Great photos, by the way!!