Houses of the Gods - my new book is published!

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Debates about the role of astronomy at the Neolithic monuments of the British Isles have occupied academic and independent researchers for many years. My new book - Houses of the Gods, Neolithic monuments and astronomy at the Brú na Bóinne in Ireland and beyond - argues that the practice of astronomical observation had a deeply practical as well as symbolic role for early prehistoric societies negotiating the transition to an agricultural way of life.

The book is available on Amazon, via the website, here

It argues that all societies, from the hunter-gatherers of the Upper Palaeolithic to our current technologically-driven cultures, require sufficiently accurate forms of time-keeping. Where these have not been available, it has resulted in significant challenges relating to the coordination and synchronization of social or collective behaviour.


Avebury's Stones Selected Shaped Carved

West_KennettAt Avebury - the Neolithic monumental complex and World Heritage Site in Wiltshire - are Britain’s largest stone circle, longest stone avenue and finest megalithic long barrow. These great standing stones have repeatedly been described as unworked since they were first documented, but in a new book, Di Pattison finds abundant evidence to the contrary.

Pattison documents a remarkable corpus of over 170 large-scale three-dimensional carvings, including astonishing architectural installations in 4D, the principal motif of which is the human head. She convincingly demonstrates that the carvings and masonry were integral elements of each structure from the outset, certain types of stone being chosen to be worked and others to make tools. 

The book is the product of ten years research and has been peer-reviewed. It is introduced by Terence Meaden and Kate Prendergast. 

Further details are available here.


The Neolithic Monument of Newgrange in Ireland - a cosmic womb?

A collection of papers from a session on ‘Mother Earth’ sites presented at the Fourteenth Annual Conference of the European Association of Archaeologists in Valetta, Malta, September 2008. The papers discuss the various forms of evidence from a wide range of ‘Mother Earth’ sites.

My paper - The Neolithic Monument of Newgrange in Ireland: a Cosmic Womb? - brings together astronomical, architectural, artistic and mythological evidence to argue that Newgrange should be seen as a womb-like sanctuary where the cycles of birth, death and rebirth were - and still are - celebrated, according to complex but robust and residual social and ritual logic. 

 

BARThe papers are published in Archaeology of Mother Earth Sites and Sanctuaries Through the Ages: Rethinking symbols and images, art and artefacts from history and prehistory, Edited by G. Terence Meaden. Oxford BAR 2012. ISBN 9781407309811.

Download my article.

View photos of the winter solstice event at Newgrange here.

You can also see my article on Newgrange in Minerva magazine:  www.minervamagazine.co.uk/archive_pdfs/2010_Vol_21_02.pdf

 


Drombeg stone circle, Co. Cork, Ireland, August 2012

Ireland 2012 010Drombeg stone circle is nestled on a steep slope overlooking the sea on Ireland's most south-westerly tip - the last bit of land before the vast swell of the Atlantic takes over.  The landscape is gentle, rainy and lush - in early August the hedges were full of scarlet fuschia, complemented by orange, purples and whites from the stunning array of wild flowers that have so loved all the rain this year.  Ireland 2012 008

 

Also known as the Druid's Altar, the stone circle is precisely built to faciltate accurate astronomical observations throughout the year and thus correctly observe the calendar. 

                                It also seems to have been a site where feasting took place. Ireland 2012 015There is evidence for a water channel, an industrial-scale hearth and a stone lined pit - which could have been used for storing shellfish and boiling food. One can only imagine the gourmet delights: seafood, venison, wild herbs and fruit, clear spring water...

 

Ireland 2012 012The megaliths at Drombeg are beautifully worked and show all the signs of a culture deeply interested in the movements of the sun and moon, stars and planets, and the properties and qualities of natural and worked stone. Like a perfectly cut egg,  the recumbent stone is an extraordinary stone, aligned as it is on a notch on the horizon where the winter solstice sun sets each year and on the portal stones which mark the rising sun at midsummer.

Again, we can only wonder at the offerings made at this altar....

Ireland 2012 025

 

See a full collection of photos from Drombeg here....


Knowth, Loughcrew and Tara - Irish Neolithic treasures

100_0275Knowth is one of three large passage-graves located at the Boyne valley in eastern Ireland - the others are Newgrange and Dowth. These pictures, taken in September 2010, reveal the astonishing nature of the rock art on the kerbstones at the site. As at Newgrange, it is likely many of these designs have astronomical properties. Kate Prendergast

The passage-graves on the hill summits at Loughcrew are earlier in date than Newgrange and Knowth. These photos show the presence of the double and tripal spiral motif, and the backstone at carin T may have been carved to represent a ram. Its east-west alignment - the entrance and passage is aligned on the rising sun at equinox - shows that an interest in astronomy - also reflected in the rock art - was well developed several hundred years before the huge Boyne sites were built.  


Newgrange, winter solstice 2009

100e0132 Winter solstice at Newgrange this year was an extraordinary event. Snow, ice and below-zero temperatures gave the seasonal moment an added edge.

We were blessed with a picture-perfect sunrise on Sunday 20th December, and with the return of Martin Brennan to Ireland as keynote speaker at a conference at Newgrange Lodge.

The conference covered different aspects of the pioneering work of Brennan and his associates Jack Roberts and Toby Hall exploring the astronomy and related rock-art at Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. Speakers also discussed recent research into Mayan temples, western Irish Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments and evidence for precision astronomy and its recording at the Boyne sites.

100e0136Here are a series of photos of the solstice event at Newgrange on Sunday 20 December 2009. There are four sets: of the monument and horizon as the sun rises; of the shadow of the standing stone being cast towards the entrance to Newgrange; inside the monument shortly after the beam of light has left the inner chamber and the of the sun playing on the megaliths and rock art of the entrance kerbstone.

Photos © Kate Prendergast 2009

My article is available in the March-April edition of Minerva magazine.


Neolithic Rock Art at the Avebury Stone Circles in Southern England

015_Meaden, T, Prendergast, K and Pattison, D.(2010) in Monumental Questions: Prehistoric Megaliths, Mounds, and Enclosures, Proceedings of the XV UISPP World Congress (Lisbon, 4-9 September 2006), Vol.7 edited by David Calado, Maxiliam Baldia and Matthew Boulanger.

There is strong academic research on a range of different rock art traditions in Neolithic Britain. These traditions span much of the Neolithic era, and represent a major expressive medium for these societies.  Phone aug 11 206

This paper argues that comparable rock art exists in Neolithic Wessex, specifically at the Avebury stone circles in southern England. It presents evidence for dressed and carved stones and suggests that potential meanings associated with such carvings are integral to the wider ritual and symbolic uses of the monument. Hence it signifies a major, hitherto unrecognised, regional rock art tradition in Neolithic Britain. 

See Di Pattison's website for the full paper.