Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 February 2014
The Newgrange passage tomb is examined for evidence of ‘Neolithic science’. Claims that it incorporated an astronomical alignment, and was constructed using Pythagorean geometry and the megalithic yard are reviewed as are scientific interpretations of its art. A new analysis of the tomb's structure reveals that it was based on a simple geometric shape measurable by a 13.1 m unit of length. The locations of particular motifs and decorated surfaces are shown to conform to the spatial relationships evident in the tomb's form. These are defined in terms of oppositions between left and right, front and back, inside and outside, visible and hidden, as well as making reference to symbols found in the art of the neighbouring passage tomb at Knowth.
These features are interpreted, not as evidence of a specificically scientific discourse in the Irish Neolithic, but as the elaboration of elements common to the passage tomb ritual discourse. Competition for political control, in the context of mortuary practices, resulted in the increasing formalization and rigid interpretation of passage tomb symbolizm, and the ritualization of new areas of knowledge.
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