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Established 16/3/2000
Kerbstone 52, Newgrange

Possible representation of Orion and Sirius

Close-up of kerb 52 at Newgrange

HIGHLY DECORATED

Kerbstone 52 at Newgrange is probably the finest decorated stone of neolithic origin in Ireland, and certainly one of the most decorative in Europe. Located at the Northwestern side of the great kerb, it is diametrically opposite the entrance stone, Kerb 1, and features a vertical line in the centre. This stone faces in the direction of Summer Solstice sunset.
  No thorough interpretation of the stone's designs has yet been made, but it could possibly feature representations of the belt stars of Orion, and it is possible that the large 'star' bored into the vertical line represents Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. There is astronomical reasoning behind this interpretation of K52. Kerbstone 52 at Newgrange
WATCHING PRECESSION
Orion and Sirius
Sirius shared the same declination as the Winter Solstice sun around 3,150BC,when Newgrange was built, and it is possible the people who constructed Newgrange were well aware of this coincidental alignment, and therefore they may have used the passage of Newgrange to watch the precessional drift of Sirius over long periods of time. Viewed from Newgrange, Sirius set over a hill called Réaltoge, which is an Irish word for "star". In folklore, it was said there was gold buried under the ringfort on the top of Réaltoge Hill, a possible reference to the fact that winter solstice sunset occurs there too. In legend about the Boyne River - the earthly Milky Way - Bóann was washed out to sea with her lapdog, Dabilla. This could be a reference to the Dog Star.
THE IRISH ORION - NUADU SILVER ARM
Newgrange and the Boyne
 

The husband of Bóann was Nuadu of the Silver Arm, also known as Nechtain. There is an astronomical interpretation to his name. William Battersby, author of "The Age of Newgrange" states that he thinks Nuadu was the Irish Orion. We agree. Nuadu was called "silver arm" because his constellation - the warrior-like grouping of stars we know as Orion - has an upraised arm which is buried in the Milky Way, which has a silvery appearance. The Boyne River is known as the "Great Silver Yolk" in the Dindshenchas, and we know the river was seen as the earthly reflection of the Milky Way in the sky because they have a similar derivation. The Milky Way was called Bealach/Bóthar na Bó Finne, the Way/Road of the Bright Cow. Boyne (Bóann) means Bright Cow. The apparent link between the heavenly Milky Way and the Boyne River is also interesting because the builders of Newgrange may have tried to replicate the Milky Way around the edge of the mound by using the milky white quartz which gives the monument its distinctive appearance. In the Stone Age, there were times when the Milky Way enveloped the whole horizon.

This was probably viewed as a significant event by the astronomers. Interestingly, this phenomenon does not occur today. However, back then, it happened just as Sirius, the Dog Star, was setting. Perhaps that's what the milky quartz is about. When Sirius (possibly featured on K52) sets at Réaltoge (star), the Milky Way envelops the whole horizon, all 360 degrees. Newgrange is surrounded by glistening silvery starlight. Then the Boyne, the earthly Milky Way, wraps itself around Brú na Bóinne in a huge bend (see map). And then a third "Milky Way" in the form of the white quartz envelopes Newgrange. An interesting idea.

PAGES OF INTEREST:

Astronomical symbols? - Interpretations of the ancient carvings.
Inside Newgrange - photos of some of the petroglyphs in the chamber.
Irish Zodiac - the old Irish words for the zodiac constellations.

All information and photos, except where otherwise stated, copyright, © Anthony Murphy, 1999-2015
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