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Newgrange's winter solstice is only 50 years old? No way, says OPW

A former State archaeologist had suggested that the roofbox at Newgrange was fabricated in the 1960s.

Image: PA Archive/PA Images

THE OPW HAS dismissed a suggestion that the winter solstice occurrence at Newgrange is a construct which only began 50 years ago.

The claim was made by a former State archaeologist and reported in the Irish Times earlier this week.

The newspaper said that independent archaeologist Michael Gibbons had co-written a paper in which he was critical of the excavation and reconstruction work carried out at the Neolithic passage tomb in the 1960s.

The article reports that Gibbons said there was “not a shred of authenticity” about the roof-box at the entrance to Newgrange, which allows light to enter the inner chamber on the shortest day of the year. Gibbons says that the roof-box was “fabricated” during the reconstruction work around 50 years ago.

The Office of Public Works (OPW), which looks after the upkeep of State property including Newgrange, said the suggestion by Gibbons was “entirely untrue”.

C0OT-LJWEAEcZro A picture from 1954 in which the roof-box can be seen Source: National Monuments Service/DARRGA

“The excavation and reinstatement works carried out by Professor Michael O’Kelly [in the 1960s] were fully recorded and include detailed drawings and photographic images,” the OPW said in a statement.

It cited another archaeologist who has researched O’Kelly’s excavation of Newgrange and found evidence of the roof-box in antiquarian accounts and drawings, in photographs from the early 20th century, and in the excavation archive itself.

“There is no question that the roof-box is a modern construct or invention; indeed, the O’Kelly archive allows us to carefully compare the roof-box before and after restoration,” Dr Robert Hensey said.

The OPW used two photographs, one dating from 1935 and the other from 1954 to show that the roof box existed in the same position before the excavation took place.

C0OT-MqWgAAAHCx A 1935 photograph showing the roof-box Source: National Monuments Service/DARRGA

The winter solstice phenomenon at Newgrange is generally believed to date from the Neolithic period around 5,000 years ago. The first modern observation of the sun shining into the inner chamber on the day of the winter solstice happened in December 1967.

Several hundred people gathered at Newgrange on Wednesday morning to see if the winter sun would illuminate the chamber but were left disappointed when the cloudy weather prevented the sun from shining in.

Watch: These bird’s-eye views of Newgrange from above are jaw-dropping

Read: If you’ve never been inside Newgrange, here’s your chance to take a peek

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