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Archaeologist bunfight!

So, it’s the Winter Solstice and a few lucky lottery winners got to get up early to travel to a field to stand in a cramped cold passage tomb hoping against hope that the rain would lighten enough for them to get a sunbeam, while a number of people who didn’t get that lucky celebrate the solstice standing around in the cold in the surrounding field. (Didn’t happen. Weather was shite this morning, and there was no sunrise to speak of. Well, the standing around in the cold happened.)

And now, a former state archaeologist is saying it’s fake! There’s a bit of a brouhaha in the Irish Times about it today.


Don’t know if you can get much snarkier than saying that one of the best-known features of a Neolithic passage tomb, UNESCO World Heritage site, and bringer-in of much tourism is “younger than Disneyland”, but archaeologist and former co-director of the Office of Public Works National Sites and Monuments Record is in the news for pretty much saying just that, saying that the roof-box that is precisely aligned to let the first strains of Winter Solstice sunlight to light up the passage into the burial mound is a construct less than 50 years old, and only has that alignment because his former teacher, the late Professor Michael O’Kelly made it that way. Oops! Now don’t get me wrong . . . Newgrange is awesome. And if you come to visit Ireland, I highly recommend going to see it. It’s also, like Stonehenge, a bit of a bad restoration job apparently.

Considering that Gibbons has another publication titled “Skellig Michael: Restored to Death” (History Ireland, 2007), he just may have a bee in his bonnet about bad archaeological restoration. Also, he argues that Prof O’Kelly ignored Newgrange’s greater significance as an Iron Age burial site for elites with a connection to the Roman Empire.


Of course, there’s a rebuttal from another archaeologist — a Dr Richard Hensey who just published a book on the origins of Newgrange. The upright stones just needed straightening, he says!


[Edit to clarify: I wasn’t personally there this morning. Plenty of other people were there in the cold and wet though.]

EDIT #2: The Office of Public Works has chimed in on Twitter:


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