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Thre stones from the Great Circle at Newgrange.
Three stones from the Great Circle at Newgrange. These massive rocks are 2.5 meters high and weigh several tons. The circle was erected some time after the mound of Newgrange was finished.

The Great Circle at Newgrange

The mound of Newgrange is surrounded by a huge stone circle, one of the biggest in Ireland with a diameter of 104 meters. There are twelve standing stones remaining today, the same number reported when the mound was first recorded in 1699. There is an average of 9 meters between the surviving stones, which means that if the circle were ever complete it could have contained up to 36 stones.

Standing stone 9 of the Great Circle.
Standing stone 9 of the Great Circle, a strange sandstone conglomorite with quartz pebbles, on the west side of Newgrange.

Professor O'Kelly suggested that the stones were left-overs from the megalithic phase which had been too large to use, possibly in an attempt to draw attention away from 'bronze age squatters' who left hearths, postholes and a huge timber 'Woodhenge' close to Newgrange.

Plan of the excavation from the book Newgrange by Michael O'Kelly.
Plan of the excavation from the book Newgrange by Michael O'Kelly showing the location of nine stones in the Great Circle. The woodhenge pits and satellite monument Site Z are to the right.

Due to the composition of the layers uncovered during the excavations we know that the circle was built long after the main mound was completed but before the cairn collapsed. Several of the standing stones were snapped at their base, but had no cairn-slip under them.

The stones of the Great Circle at Newgrange cast shadows which can interact with the kerbstones at certain times.
The stones of the Great Circle at Newgrange cast shadows which can interact with the kerbstones at certain times. Martin Brennan noticed that on the winter solstice the shadow of GC1 touches the Entrance Stone.

The excavations undertaken by David Sweetman in the 1980 were able to demonstrate that the stone circle was built after the great bronze age Woodhenge to the east of Newgrange. It seems likely that the circle is a bronze age addition and is several hundreds of years younger than the passage grave and probably the last monumental construction on the site. The Circle tells us that Newgrange and its environs were still held in great esteem a thousand years after the mound was constructed.

Plan of the excavation from the book Newgrange by Michael O'Kelly.
A photo from the excavation of the pit circle demonstrates that the Woodhenge pre-dates the great stone circle. Picture © Con Brogan.

Interestingly, the Great Circle has the same diameter as the two inner circles within the massive ring at Avebury in England. Of the twelve remaining Circle stones at Newgrange, the four largest and most imposing are on the south east side before the entrance. These stones are 2.5 to 3 meters tall and weigh many tons. Perhaps they were erected at the same time as the Avebury circles.

Excavations have revealed that GC9, the strange conglomorate stone illustrated at the top of the page, was surrounded by some kind of timber structure during the bronze age. Two parallel rows of post holes, which held huge timber posts, burned down or was set on fire; the heat was so intense that the stone was cracked and damaged.

Standing stone -10 of the Great Circle at Newgrange.
Standing stone -10 of the Great Circle at Newgrange. This small rectangular enclosure was outside the main excavation area and shows the amount of cairn-slip still around the base of the north side of the mound.

The stone above, GC-10 had fallen when the mound collapsed and was found lying flat. Macalistar and Praeger examined this stone and had a pit dug under it to view the lower surface in June 1928. The pit was covered with planks and left that way until O'Riordain looked at it in 1954. He noted that there was no cairn slip beneath the stone and uncovered the socket and packing stones 7 meters from the kerbstones.

During O'Kelly's excavations in 1973 GC-10 was examined and restored to upright.

A  section of one of the two inner circles at Avebury in England
A section of one of the two inner circles at Avebury in England which both have the same diameter, 104 meters, as the Great Circle at Newgrange. Is there a connection?