Mound and passage tomb
Cross section sketch of the passage
The Newgrange monument primarily consists of a large mound, built of alternating layers of earth and stones, with grass growing on top and a reconstructed facade of flattish white quartz stones studded at intervals with large rounded cobbles covering part of the circumference. The mound is 76 metres (249 ft) across and 12 metres (39 ft) high, and covers 4,500 square metres (1.1 acres) of ground. Within the mound is a chambered passage, which may be accessed by an entrance on the southeastern side of the monument. The passage stretches for 19 metres (60 ft), or about a third of the way into the centre of the structure. At the end of the passage are three small chambers off a larger central chamber with a high corbelled vault roof. Each of the smaller chambers has a large flat "basin stone" where the bones of the dead may have been deposited during prehistoric times. Whether it was a burial site remains unclear. The walls of this passage are made up of large stone slabs, twenty-two of which are on the western side and twenty-one on the eastern side. They average 1½ metres in height; several are decorated with carvings (as well as graffiti from the period after the rediscovery). The ceiling shows no evidence of smoke.
The entrance passage to Newgrange, and the entrance stone
Situated around the perimeter of the mound is a circle of standing stones. Twelve standing-stones survive out of a possible original thirty-five or thereabouts. Most archaeologists suggest that they were added later, during the Bronze Age, centuries after the original monument had been abandoned as a ritual centre.
Megalithic art on one of the kerbstones
The retaining wall and kerbstones
Newgrange contains various examples of graphic Neolithic rock art carved onto its stone surfaces. These carvings fit into ten categories, five of which are curvilinear (circles, spirals, arcs, serpentiniforms, and dot-in-circles) and the other five of which are rectilinear (chevrons, lozenges, radials, parallel lines, and offsets). They are marked by wide differences in style, the skill-level needed to produce them, and on how deeply carved they are. One of the most notable types of art at Newgrange are the triskele-like features found on the entrance stone. It is approximately three metres long and 1.2 metres high (10 ft long and 4 ft high), and about five tonnes in weight. It has been described as "one of the most famous stones in the entire repertory of megalithic art." Archaeologists believe that most of the carvings were produced prior to the stones being erected, although the entrance stone was carved in situ before the kerbstones were placed alongside it.
Various archaeologists have speculated as to the meanings of the designs, with some, such as George Coffey (in the 1890s), believing them to be purely decorative, whilst others, such as Michael J. O'Kelly (who led the 1962–1975 excavation at the site), believed them to have some sort of symbolic purpose, because some of the carvings had been in places that would not have been visible, such as at the bottom of the orthostatic slabs below ground level. Extensive research on how the art relates to alignments and astronomy in the Boyne Valley complex was carried out by American-Irish researcher, Martin Brennan.