The façade of Newgrange – A short history: LAPC

The stone façade surrounding the 5,000-year-old Newgrange monument in County Meath, Ireland is impressive. However, I learned Newgrange’s façade is not what it appears to be.

façade of Newgrange March 2020

I liked the way the patterns in the wall changed from dark-colored stones to dark dotted with white…

Dark & light wall at Newgrange March 2020

To light dotted with dark stones.

Façade - Dark & light wall at Newgrange March 2020

The white stones over the entryway make it stand out.

Entranceway at Newgrange March 2020

The wall includes rough white quartz, rounded gray granodiorite, coarse-grained gabbro, and banded siltstone.

Façade at Newgrange March 2020

Upon doing further research, I learned “façade” has a double meaning at this site.

The rediscovery of Newgrange

In 1699, a local landowner, Charles Campbell, rediscovered this passage tomb. He had instructed laborers to collect stone from the site, and they inadvertently found the entrance to the tomb.

Several prominent antiquarians visited the site. They debated who constructed the monument and what purpose it served. Theories on who made Newgrange included invading Vikings in early medieval times, ancient Egyptians, ancient Indians, or the Phoenicians.

In the meantime, the site experienced degradation caused by the passage of time and vandalism. In 1882, Newgrange and sites nearby gained protection under the Ancient Monuments Protection Act. The Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth passage tombs, located in an area known as Brú na Bóinne, received recognition as a World Heritage Site in 1993.

Here is Newgrange’s entrance in the late 1800s, before restoration. Numerous archaeologists participated in conserving the site.

Entrance to Newgrange
Photo by R. L. Welch.

A façade begins

From 1962 to 1975, archaeologist Michael J. O’Kelly oversaw excavation, restoration, and reconstruction. Once excavation began, a large quantity of small stones were found. O’Kelly concluded they must have been part of a wall. Under his guidance, his crew made a steel-reinforced concrete retention wall to hold the stones in place.

Newgrange reconstruction
Newgrange during restoration and reconstruction. Public domain photo.

Many in the archaeological community disagreed with this controversial decision. In fact, P.R. Giot said it looked like “cream cheese cake with dried currants distributed about.”

Newgrange’s façade is “the face of a building,” as defined by the dictionary. However, you could say it’s “a false, superficial, or artificial appearance or effect,” another definition of the word.

When reconstruction at the nearby Knowth monument began in 1962, archaeologist George Eogan took a fresh approach. He believed the stones formed a welcoming “apron” on the ground near the entrance.

The photo below shows the stones near the entrance to Knowth. Both sites are amazing, whether you prefer the cream cheese cake look or not. 😉

Near Knowth entrance, Ireland March 2020

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – Dots and Spots

15 thoughts on “The façade of Newgrange – A short history: LAPC

  1. Fascinating. And beautiful. As well as a reminder that when finding ancient sites we’re really only guessing as to how they originally appeared and what their use and significance were.

    • Thanks, Rebecca. I had no idea what the history of the façade was until I started reading about it yesterday. It’s a fascinating site that I hope you get the opportunity to visit. You’ll be closer to Ireland in Vermont. 🙂

  2. Fascinating history and images of Newgrange – I have never heard of it, but would love to visit some day. Interesting how archeologist try to lay the puzzle and people’s reactions are always different. I love the way they set the dark stones and the white stones – well photographed. Thank you for taking us!

    • Thanks, Ann-Christine! Yes, it’s interesting how the experts try to figure out how things appeared at one time. Sometimes it’s just a guess.

  3. Where did my comment go? I loved your post – this is an interesting place I’d love to visit in person. Loved the story, and how archeologists approach it – as usual with different thoughts from other people…The dark and white stones are so well matched, and your photographs clearly show the thinking. Well done. Thank you for taking us!

  4. That’s really fascinating – it makes you stop and think about the pros and cons of restoring ancient structures. I think I prefer the Knowth approach, but who knows if it’s correct! If I thought the Newgrange façade was closer to the original I would immediately start to prefer that one 😉

    • Yes, it’s difficult to determine which is right when there’s limited information. I was going to just do a short post, but then I found out about the story behind the structure. It’s a fascinating story!

  5. Interesting take on the challenge Siobhan. Never heard of the place but loved your story about the architectural decisions and their impact. Especially glad you included the older image to give us a sense of how it all started.

    • I’m glad you liked to learn a bit of the story of Newgrange. Here’s another fun fact about the monument. A ray of sunlight lights the inner chamber’s darkest reaches around the Winter Solstice. They use a lottery system to draw tickets for a lucky few to observe it from inside. 30,500 entries in 2019.

    • Thanks, John. Sometimes you have to make an “educated guess” when it comes to historical reconstruction. It does look impressive – a work of art.

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