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Book Chapter


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence


Statistics, Archaeology, 6.5 OTHER HUMANITIES

Publication Details

In Zeit ist Macht. Wer macht Zeit?/Time is power. Who makes time?, edited by H. Meller, A Reichenberger and R. Risch, 107–123. Mitteldeutscher Archäologentag vom 8. bis 10. Oktober 2020 in Halle (Saale)/13th Archaeological Conference of Central Germany October 8–10, 2020 in Halle (Saale): Tagungen des Landesmuseums für Vorgeschichte Halle (Halle [Saale] in Vorbereitung).


Neolithic passage tombs are one of four main types on the island of Ireland. This paper considers their orientation within a statistical and phenomenological framework and finds twenty-three examples which face the rising or setting sun at key times in the annual solar cycle, notably the solstices. The discussion reflects the current archaeoastronomical view that intentional solar alignment was of low precision because of the mostly crude architecture of the tombs. Any calendrical function, such as tracking time, should therefore be viewed as secondary. More significantly, astronomically aligned passage tombs are perceived to embody broader cultural and cosmological beliefs most probably associated with ancestor worship and linking the dead with a deified sun. By extension, axial alignment is interpreted as being symbolically linked with the horizon, considered here as a liminal zone imbued with power and charged with mystery, demarcating the boundary between two worlds. The sun, rising and setting at the horizon, gave diurnal time. Appearing to travel almost ninety degrees from solstice to solstice, it also gave seasonal time. To the Neolithic mind this probably made the sun, especially when it was tangential to the horizon, the supreme cosmic body and source of power in the sky, nourishing the spirits of the elite interred within the tomb