First Light: The Origins of Newgrange [Paperback]

Robert Hensey(Author)

ISBN: 9781782979517 | Published by: Oxbow Books | Series: Oxbow Insights in Archaeology | Volume: 2 | Year of Publication: 2015 | Language: English 210p, H7.8 x W5, 33 b/w illustrations, 8 color illustrations
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First Light


Newgrange in Ireland is a world famous monument not only because of its vast scale and elaborate megalithic art, but also because of its renowned alignment to the sun on the winter solstice. Yet the origins of Newgrange remain somewhat mysterious. Across Ireland over two hundred similar passage tombs are found, some of which are considerably older than Newgrange. These less investigated monuments reveal that the origins of Newgrange may be hidden in plain sight. A progression in the scale and sophistication of construction of these passage tombs, developments in the styles of megalithic art, and an increase in the scale and craftsmanship of associated artifacts may be observed, which taken together indicate a lengthy process of development. In short, Robert Hensey uncovers an untold history at Newgrange; an island-wide story of incremental changes over hundreds of years, of a society in evolution, perhaps in extremis, who left behind such a rich, enigmatic and patterned legacy.

This book not only charts the earlier history of Newgrange, but addresses why it was constructed, what was its purpose. In the Boyne Valley, through Newgrange and related sites at Brú na Bóinne, we have evidence not only of extraordinary physical accomplishments, but of tremendous acts of imagination; a testament to rich and developed inner worlds. In this book, it is proposed that the concept of an otherworld which could be embodied by and accessed through passage tombs was a central motivator in passage tomb construction from its earliest beginnings. Newgrange is at the end of a long tradition of monuments dedicated to the religious needs of Neolithic communities, from small-scale monuments built by early farming groups; to potent otherworld centers of ritual training at the edge of society; eventually to temple-like monuments standing at the very heart of the religious and political sphere in Neolithic Ireland.

Challenging both orthodox archaeological opinions and popular conjecture, this will be an important book for anyone interested in Neolithic archaeology.

Reviews & Quotes

"Hensey’s book will be invaluable in a variety of ways, and to many different categories of reader: to Irish students seeking an introduction to this aspect of the prehistoric evidence; to academic and professional archaeologists beyond Irish shores, looking for comparisons with their own regions of study; and even to non-specialist visitors to Brú na Bóinne, hoping to dig a little deeper into Ireland’s prehistoric heritage and who may be inspired also to make a broader exploration of it."
Mark Patton
(Volume XXIV, 2015)

"In this book, Robert Hensey takes a fresh and exciting approach to Newgrange, building on existing data but focusing much more comprehensively on where this exceptional monument has come from. Drawing widely from anthropology, ethnography, archaeological theory, and the latest archaeological data, Hensey makes bold suggestions challenging long-held truisms. The text is open, accessible, and well illustrated throughout, and moves the discussion about Newgrange to a new level by focusing on the monument's long and involved gestation. A very welcome addition to the Newgrange corpus, this book will help to set the agenda for the discussion of the monument for the foreseeable future."
Conor Brady

"“Drawing on a wide range of material from anthropology, environmental archaeology, and religious theory, the book challenges and informs in equal measure, and sets a high standard for future volumes in this series. Whether it is to be an introduction for the novice or student, or a stimulating read for the seasoned academic, First Light: The Origins of Newgrange comes highly recommended.” "
(EJA 20 (1) 2017)

"“First Light ultimately succeeds in delivering an intelligent, accessible and up-to-date account of the context to Newgrange, arguably Ireland’s most iconic ancient monument.” "
Jessica Smyth

"This is more than a book about Newgrange. Robert Hensey argues, quite rightly, that to understand the great Neolithic tomb, you need to see beyond a single site, to the island-wide context of Irish passage tombs. He achieves this elegantly, providing a good and concise synthesis of recent research melded with provocative ideas…The result is a very readable account, with some striking images of tombs, art and landscape. …By setting Newgrange in its wider historical and archaeological context, Hensey brings new life to this very public symbol."
Alistair Barclay

"This book brings clarity and authority to the topic of passage tombs and their place in Irish and wider European prehistory. The content, based on an exemplary research paradigm, will make essential reading for the broad range of disciplines and practitioners which contribute to the science of cultural astronomy in the broadest meaning of the term"
Frank Prendergast

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