My first post on this blog, on December 21, included a picture and info on Newgrange, the neolithic passage tomb in Ireland that is oriented to the morning of the winter solstice.
A few days later, I chanced upon an article (1) on Bryn Celli Ddu, “Mound in the Dark Grove,” a neolithic tomb almost as old, on the Isle of Anglesey off the north coast of Wales. The passage there is aligned to mark the morning of the summer solstice.
The site began some 5,000 years ago as a henge, or circle of standing stones. The mound was added later. Bryn Celli Ddu was first explored in 1865, then reconstructed in the 1920’s. Excavations over the last five summers, in which the public was allowed to participate, reveal human activity at the site for millennia. This summer will feature an Archaeological Festival, with lectures, exhibits, and artists-in-residence as the work there continues. Of special interest is an evening of stargazing on June 21, at the time of the summer solstice (2).
What moved the builders of stone circles and passage tombs to go to such lengths to mark the solstice days for the ages? We’ll probably never know. By the time the Celts arrived, ca. 300-500 B.C, they had been gone for at least two millennia.
We also don’t know how stone age people constructed these monolithic sites. In the days of Cromwell, workers, equipped with iron tools, were assigned to dig out the “pagan” stones that surround the English town of Avebury. Work stopped when, after tremendous effort, they loosened the first stone which then fell and crushed one of the workers. It’s more than enough to make one believe the stones themselves do not want to be disturbed!
There’s much room for speculation – a solstice signals ends and beginnings. Perhaps the morning sun on such days brought the promise of new life or rebirth to those buried within.
In the end, however, the stones, like the features at other sacred sites do not easily give up their secrets. Perhaps all we can do is be still at such places. And look. And listen.