Neolithic Passage Tombs in Ireland

Knowth, Dowth, and Newgrange are Neolithic Passage tombs located in the Boyne Valley of eastern Ireland. They make up what archaeologist refer to as a necropolis—basically a city of the dead. Together, these three tombs are some of the oldest examples of monumental Neolithic architecture in existence. Newgrange was begun first, starting around 3200 BC. It consists of a large circular mound with an inner stone passageway and chambers. Human bones and possible grave good or votive offerings have been found in these chambers. The mound has a retaining wall at the front, made mostly of white quartz cobblestones, and it is ringed by engraved kerbstones. The passage into Newgrange is aligned for the sunrise on the Winter Solstice, which appears to have been one of the most important events in Neolithic religion. The Winter Solstice, for those for whom Read more…

Pre-Celtic Religion

Although Britain was occupied for hundreds of thousands of years, the pre-Celtic era we’re talking specifically about is the Neolithic period, which begins around 4300 BC. The Neolithic peoples of Britain and Ireland are set apart from their ancestors because they began to exhibit an increasing control over their environment. They were farmers and herders; they had villages; and they started building religious monuments, what archaeologists call ‘neolithic monumental architecture’. This includes burial mounds, stone circles, and standing stones, all of which were part of what we would view now as their ‘religious’ system. Unfortunately, we have no written documents dating to this time, so can only use evidence from the monuments themselves and artefacts that survived to make informed guesses about what prehistoric people actually believed. While there was no single or continuously developed belief system in prehistoric Britain, Read more…

Stonehenge

  Stonehenge is one of many rings of standing stones built by the ancient peoples in Britain, in this case on the Salisbury Plain. More is known about Stonehenge in particular than other stone circles because it was so well preserved that real archaeological work has been done around it. A ‘henge’, in archaeological terms, is a large enclosure. It appears that the first ‘henge’ at Stonehenge involved no stones at all, but was an earthwork, composed of a ditch, a bank, and a series of dug holes called the ‘Aubrey holes, all begun around 3100 BC. The Aubrey holes are round pits dug into the chalk of the plain, each about a meter wide and deep, with steep sides and flat bottoms. These holes form a circle a little less than a 100  meters in diameter. In a way, then, Read more…