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12 February 2009
Archaeologist believes Newgrange is a multi-period mound

A new critical analysis has revealed that the world famous Irish passage-tomb mound Newgrange did look quite different in prehistory than hitherto believed. Newgrange is probably a multi-period mound with 5-6 phases spanning from the Passage Tomb Period to the Early Bronze Age. This theory clashes with the traditional view introduced by Professor Michael O'Kelly, who led the excavation and the controversial restoration with the addition of a white wall around the mound over the years 1962-75. O'Kelly believed that Newgrange was a single-period mound, and that the great quantities of mound fill, which covered the kerbstones and extended far beyond them, had slid out from the mound when a wall, which held the mound fill in place, did collapse.
     The new analysis, carried out by the Danish archaeologist Palle Eriksen in a paper called 'The Great Mound of Newgrange', is based on studies of the sections documented by O'Kelly. The mound fill comprises fist to head-size stones between 3-4 thin layers of turfs. According to O'Kelly these layers of turfs were laid by the megalith builders. But Eriksen points out that the turf layers formed naturally - the vegetation layer of the turf is the uppermost and it does not face downwards as it should if placed by human hands - and each layer must therefore represent a grass-covered surface at a particular time in the building sequence of the mound.
     Combined with other evidence at Newgrange, 5-6 phases can be sorted out. In phase 1-2 the mound with the passage tomb was built and expanded. The white quartz stones belonged to a ceremonial horizontal platform in front of the entrance to the passage tomb, stretching to both sides along the kerbstones. According to Eriksen, there was never a wall around Newgrange in the Neolithic. In phase 3, in the Grooved Ware-Beaker Period, a henge was built near the mound, and a thick culture layer started to accumulate, with traces of fireplaces, lots of artefacts and ceramics, bones (mainly of pigs) and other traces of continuing ritual activities. In phase 4-5, in the Late Neolithic-Early Bronze Age, a great mound with a flat top was erected, fully covering the previous smaller mound with the passage tomb. The mound in phase 5 would have looked very much like the contemporary Silbury Hill. Finally in phase 6, in the Early Bronze Age, the great circle of stones was erected and a stone was placed at the top of the mound. The events in this last phase could also have taken place in phase 5.
     The consequences of this controversial analysis are far-reaching for the future look of this World Heritage Site. As Eriksen strongly believes the wall is a fake, the archaeologist propose it should be dismantled.

Source: Acta Archaeologica (vol. 79, 2008)

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