I’ve been monitoring the Website recently, hoping for an announcement, but it appears that the Winter Solstice sunrise will not be Webcast live from Newgrange this year.
Newgrange, County Meath, Ireland, is one of the true treasures of human endeavor, a gift to us from the ancient world. Built about 5,000 years ago, this hollow hill, believed to be a barrow, (burial tomb) contains elements that display a higher level of mathematical, engineering, and astronomical expertise than we moderns have been willing to credit our ancestors with. Newgrange’s construction allows the interior chamber to flood with sunlight at sunrise for about five days surrounding the Winter Solstice. The sunlight illuminates petroglyphs inside the barrow.
Each year about 50 people, chosen by lottery, enter the tomb and witness the illumination first hand. Even on a small Webcast screen, it is a sacred moment to join with all those who came before to mark the return of the sun on the shortest day of the year.
We watched the Webcast live in 2007 and 2008. It required staying up past midnight, but we really enjoyed it. It’s not only a unique event, but to witness the masterwork of 5,000-year-old engineering via the Internet from half a world away was truly awe inspiring.
The event itself wasn’t quite as impressive as we’d hoped, largely because they showed so little of the feed coming from a camera installed inside the barrow, but I later learned they had some transmittal problems. A lot more people tuned in than they expected. Also, conditions have changed subtly since Newgrange was built. The massive rockpile has sunk somewhat into the earth, and the angle of the Earth itself has tilted somewhat from the axis Newgrange’s engineers worked with. As a result, the illumination is not quite as dramatic as it must have been when originally constructed. Even so, it was an event worth witnessing, made all the more amazing by the fact that people around the world can join in the event through the Internet. Twenty-first century technology meets 3000 BCE technology!
I suppose it’s just as well that there won’t be a Webcast this year. We’ll need to get up early the next day to go greet family arriving by ferry to spend Christmas with us. We’ll miss out on Newgrange, but be better prepared for company.