An engraving printed as a woodcut after a rubbing from the great mound of Dowth in the Boyne Valley, about 1880.

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Article by Tom Ray
Macalister's Guidebook

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The chambers at Dowth
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Engravied symbols from Dowth South recorded by William Wilde.

Art at Dowth

Like everything else about Dowth, the artwork found there is very mysterious. All that we know about the art comes from the survey conducted by Michael and Claire O'Kelly who recorded all the engravings they could find on some 38 surfaces.

The main chamber at Dowth is constructed of massive slabs. The basin is one of the largest in the Boyne Valley. The stone on the right is covered with engravings

As Dowth is the least known of the three great mounds in the Boyne Valley, and it's artwork is not well known as a result. Some of the engraved kerbstones are still buried under cairn slip. The engravings are more primitive than at Newgrange and Knowth and would seem to be earlier. Some of the designs are thought to be very similar to the art from Loughcrew. Of the 38 stones on the site which bear art, 15 of the kerbstones are decorated, 11 of the stones are in Dowth North and 12 stones in Dowth South.

Dowth engravings tend to be circular for the most part, with a few spirals and wavy lunar squiggles. The most impressive engravings which can be seen on the outside of the mound today are on the Stone of the Seven Suns, the front and back of which are illustrated below. This kerbstone is found almost directly opposite the entrance to Dowth North, and like K1 and K52 at Newgrange, divides the mound in two. It was probably used in the setting out of the site.

There are five sun wheels laid out horizontaly across the stone, one being below the others; there are two more rayed circles, and two un-rayed circles. There is also what Martin Brennan described as a calibration offset, a unit of measurement on the top left of the stone.

There are also another set of carvings on the back of this kerbstone which can be viewed as there is space behind the stone due to some ancient excavation.

Engravings on the Stone of the Seven Suns, the most impressive panel of art visible at Dowth today. Taken from the Survey of Dowth by M and C O'Kelly.

Engravings on the back of the Stone of the Seven Suns.

The circular chamber of Dowth South has two complete engraved slabs on the side opposite the entrance, which interact with the beam of light from the setting sun on the winter solstice.

The stone (shown in Brennan's illustration, right), is placed at the back of the circular chamber. The beam of light from the setting sun just misses it as it streams across the follo of the chamber. The beam of light illuminates the next stone to the right. Perhaps in the symbolic language of the builders, this design represents night, shadow and darkness? When the sun strikes into the chamber there is a great blast of warm golden light which illuminates the whole chamber including the annex or niche on the south side.

Martin Brennan, the Irish American researcher was the first to rediscover the winter solstice sunset beam at Dowth back in the early 1980's. He demonstrated that the beam of light strikes the back of the chamber and was the first to point out that the three mounds in the Boyne Valley are integrated. To allow the light to enter the hedge in front of the entrance has to be reguarly cropped by the OPW. Nowadays people who go to visit Newgrange for sunrise can stay around the Boyne Valley to witness the sunsets at Dowth, and the sunbeams have been photographed many times and recently published in a small book by photographer Anne Marie Maroney.

HISTORIC PICTURE....... A shaft of sunlight beams into the Dowth chamber at 3.00 p.m. yesterday, revealing the engravings which researcher Martin Brennan claims were the basis of a sophisticated sundial used 5,000 years ago (taken from an old newspaper clipping).

Some of the kerbstones with engravings on the south side of the great mound at Dowth. At least 15 of the kerbstones have engravings, and there may be more, for many of the kerbstones on the north side are still buried.