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Dowth henge - Summer Solstice sunrise alignment discovery

A panoramic view of the enclosure
Click on this image to see a larger view of this amazing structure.

Dowth Site Q is a large henge, or embanked enclosure, located roughly east of the Dowth mound. It is reputedly the second largest such enclosure in Ireland (Coffey 1912, P.60). From the air, Site Q appears egg-shaped, similar in shape to Newgrange, and has two openings, one at the south-western side and one opposite at the north-eastern side. These openings are aligned to Summer Solstice sunrise, as confirmed by observations made by Mythical Ireland on the morning of June 23rd, 2000, but there is considerable doubt over whether both openings were part of the original structure. The earthen banks of this enclosure rise up to 5 metres in height.

The alignment of the gaps at Site Q
The above photographic diagram demonstrates how we first noticed the alignment of the enclosure's gaps was consistent with the Summer Solstice sunrise. We took a compass reading of 58º, which when corrected for true azimuth gives 50º, so we were fairly certain the alignment was accurate. The photo on right shows the area of horizon which the alignment points to. For a ground plan of Site Q, click here.
The view of the alignment

Our azimuth readings were initially taken on a site visit to the enclosure on April 14th, so we had to wait over two months to confirm our observation. It has to be noted that the alignment probably covers 5 or 6 degrees of azimuth, and so is only a rough alignment, plus there is some difficulty with choosing a point from which to observe the phenomenon. We tried to locate ourselves behind the southwestern gap, roughly halfway between the bank on either side. It has been suggested to us that perhaps any observations made at the site, if that was indeed the purpose of the enclosure, would have been made from inside the banks, not outside, perhaps somewhere near to the centre of the site. There is no clear evidence that the centre of the site was marked, as there are no standing stones or other features to indicate a centre.

Sunrise!

Having arrived at the site at 4:40am, we were unsure if we would see any sunrise due to an overcast sky, and the fact that it was raining left us believing we would miss the opportunity to see the alignment. However, at just after 5am we did see the sun rising over the distant hill of Clogherhead (incidentally called in Irish Cloch Ór ­ the ŒGolden Stone¹, perhaps a reflection of how the golden sun bathes the hill with light).

See a news article in the Drogheda Independent about our discoveries. See this page for a ground plan and aerial photograph of the site.


Sunrise
Sunrise
The Sun was visible for a few minutes, but that was enough to secure photogaphic evidence!

It is important to state that archaeological evidence suggests the northeastern gap in the enclosure was not contemporary with the construction of the enclosure.*

* "Embanked enclosures of the Boyne region", Geraldine Stout, proceedings of the RIA, Volume 91, C, Number 9 (1991). Other sources also cast doubt on the presence of the northeastern gap. Although the second edition Ordnance Survey map shows two gaps, the first edition does not show the NE gap, but rather indicates a clump of trees.

Archaeologist Geraldine Stout, who undertook a major study into these enclosure structures in 1991, says the following: "The enclosing bank is breached in two diametrically opposed places; the more definite of the two breaks occurs in the southwest (227ºT), for a maximum distance of 20m, narrowing to 12m. The second opening, in the north-east (55ºT), was marked by a dotted line on the O.S. first edition map . . . A slight rise and a definite fall to the exterior along this opening in line with the bank make it highly probable that this opening is not contemporary with the construction of the enclosure".

The NE-SW alignment raises some interesting questions about these gaps and indeed about the function of the site. The astronomical evidence is interesting to say the least, and it is our view that the site most probably marks the sunset on Winter Solstice. But the whole function of the site cannot be stated without further investigation. It is Mythical Ireland¹s hope to carry out a study of the site with an archaeologist and a surveyor in order to find out more about this possible Winter Solstice function. In the meantime, it is worth noting that the nearby Neolithic passage mound at Dowth has a passage which is aligned on the setting Winter Solstice sun.

It must be mentioned that no archaeological digging has taken place here, and the structure is well preserved. "Dowth is unique within the group in having a well-preserved bank width of approximately 20m, rising to an average height of 4m." (G. Stout, 1991). A date of 2000BC is given as the beginning of the period of ritual circle construction in the Boyne region. Of the thirteen enclosures in this region, only one, at Monknewtown, has been excavated. A ringfort, called Site M near Knowth, was excavated during the summer of 2002 and was found to be an Early Christian habitation site.

No programme of excavations is planned for Site Q, but a dig at this site could yield some very important information about the date of construction of this monument, and whether the NE gap was part of the original structure.

Looking towards the southwest

Dowth henge site looking from the inside towards Dowth Hall, which is nicely lined up in this photograph with the gap on the south-western end of the enclosure.

A view of Site Q

An overall view of Site Q, Dowth Henge, from the north-east. Note the gap on the north-eastern side of the enclosure.

WEB LINKS

To learn more about henge enclosure sites, visit this page.
An interesting theory about henge enclosures - click here.

Back to the Dowth page

All information and photos, except where otherwise stated, copyright, © Anthony Murphy, 1999-2015
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