Nowhere else do we seem to have the degree of mythic relevance that appears with Newgrange and the Boyne complex, although a considerable amount of lore is known that associates mounds with Irish gods, kings, and heroes. Certain other sites reveal more direct information about alignments and associations with possible notational art.

The Loughcrew complex (Sliabh na Caillaighe or Sliabh na Caillighe (Riordan 1979), Slieve na Calliagh (Harbison 1970/1992), "Hill of the Witch") is located in the same county (Meath) on high ground 40 km west of the Boinne complex with magnificent and commanding views of the surrounding lush green hills. The burials are centered on four hills more than 200 m in height. Loughcrew had as many as 30 mounds in the last century but only a few are relatively well preserved (see Figure 6.16).

As at Brugh na Boinne, the mounds contain a considerable amount of art, but it is freer and cruder than is the Boyne complex. It has been suggested that it is either a prototype or a provincial copy. Because we have no external evidence about the chronology, this problem cannot be resolved at present. There are some very revealing items at

Loughcrew even now. The most important of the mounds is Cairn L (Figure 6.17). This is aligned 9° south of east, according to Brennan, but the Sun shines in at the equinoxes at a time when it is substantially above the horizon. However, the declination of the rising Sun can be slightly different at the sunrise closest to the equinox from year to year and from spring to fall,11 and therefore, the shape of the light beam that actually reaches the chamber can be subtly different. Brennan's information is that as the Sun rises higher and higher, it successively illuminates different parts of the stone, framing first one, and then the other. If the evidence is accurately presented there would seem to be a relationship between the light beam and the design elements delineating the equinox.

11 The rising line of the ecliptic is tilted toward the south in the spring and north in the fall (see Figure 2.20). Thus, the diurnal path of the Sun continuously varies in a small but discernible way and with it the azimuth and altitude that together determine shadowing effects. Here, the effect may be enhanced by altitude variation along the eastern horizon.

As in the Boinne complex, one small mound faces due south and hence marks mid-day, but whereas the low roof of the Boinne monument would have stopped the light beam from entering except near the winter solstice, here a floor cut below ground level apparently allows light to enter even when the Sun is at its highest, near the summer solstice. It is interesting to note that at summer solstice, a shadow bisects the symmetrical design of Stone 8 of Cairn U (Brennan 1983, p. 87), made possible by the destruction of the roof of the cairn. As at Newgrange, the summer solstice marker would have been visible only at an early stage of the construction of the mound and invisible thereafter.

Two further points can be derived from this material. One is that many of the mounds present unexpected or unexplained alignments. There seem to be alignments to the cross-quarter points of the horizon. A set of four mounds have successively changing alignments. Although some may mark solar calendar divisions, some do not seem to fit any scheme that we can recognize. The second point is that one important series of mounds is apparently aligned on the summer solstice rising Sun, although the individual passages have different alignments. The situation is like that of the east-west alignment at the Boyne complex, and it supports the inferences drawn from that complex.

Other Irish sites described by Brennan have passage grave alignments to solstices and both astronomical-calendrical investigations, and examination of design motifs should be considerably extended beyond what has been done already. Because of the paucity of human skeletons at these sites, and the alleged use of chambers to determine when phenomena would take place, Brennan called them "observatories." In no normal sense does the use of this term appear appropriate. The passage graves are oriented to already known phenomena, appearing once or twice a year or, perhaps, less. They could serve as calendrical markers, and they may well have served to indicate when particular festivals or rituals should occur, but this hardly requires the use of an observatory. Burl has suggested that the importance of ritual was beginning to outweigh that of burial. However, we cannot accept the view that the burials in these structures were of secondary importance to the astronomical alignments. They are, rather, inseparably linked. Although it is clear that intrusive burials continued to be made in some of the graves at least until Christianity became the dominant religion, the archaeological evidence both in terms of stratigraphy and of associated grave deposits is equally clear that many of the burials are primary deposits made at the time of construction of the monument. The use of the technical term "secondary burials" to indicate that the burials were not made immediately at the time of death may give nonarchaeologi-cal readers a mistaken impression. These were mass burials,

Figure 6.17. Cairn L of the Loughcrew complex (Sliabh na Caillaighe): (a) Interior views. (b) Exterior view from the entrance (upper), and view from inside toward the entrance. Photos by E.F. Milone.

and in Ireland, the bodies were normally cremated before burial. Thus, they may represent an accumulation built over several years. There is in fact every reason to think that the primary purpose of the monuments was to be graves. The astronomical associations of the winter solstice with the death and rebirth of the Sun, found in so many other cultures, may have been held by the builders of passage graves also. Similar relationships of gods and humans could be postulated for other alignments.

There are, of course, monuments other than passage graves for which it would be difficult even to postulate as much about the ritual activity and beliefs as has been suggested from passage graves. The burial mound of Newgrange may have been built inside an already erected stone circle, but there are contrary opinions. If it were erected earlier than the mound, however, it could have been laid out with a peg and a rope. This in turn could help explain why its diameter, 103.6 m or 125 MY, is the same as at Brogar and the inner rings of Avebury (Burl 1976, p. 71). At about the same time that the Newgrange burial mound was being built, a major set of stone circles was being built in Cumbria.

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