Really interesting slow-burner about the cursus. Id say there is a good chance there are a lot of these lying around the landscape waiting to be discovered. Particularly if a relatively small area in Wicklow has revealed so many.
That's a great blog by the way, is that yours slowburner?
Hello again Bawn and apologies to both you and Slowburner for my late reply to your posts,but I've spent several days busily investigating the lie of the land close to the Curragh Cursus on Long Hill in the hope that it would give me clues as to what the function of the Cursus was and perhaps why it was sited where it was.My previous post outlined how I believed it may have been possible to observe the May and August cross-quarter day sunsets on Red Hill to the NW,while standing at the W-NW facing end of the cursus,and Bawn pointed out that perhaps it would have made more sense for the neolithic community who built this massive construct to align it directly to Red Hill beyond,if indeed that was what its function was meant to be for - that's a fair point and would wholly agree that there must be some other reason why it was aligned the way it was.What if the cursus was sited and aligned in such a way that it was actually possible to observe four different astronomical events in any one year?Let me explain - I think I may have gathered enough information to suggest that the cursus not alone warned of the approaching cross-quarter days,but the summer and winter solstices too.
I mentioned in my earlier post how the American excavation team on Dún Ailinne noticed the summer solstice sun descend between 'the Chair Hills' to the NW;this is something I believe can be seen more dramatically from the E-SE end of the Curragh Cursus.
I paid a visit to the summit of Dún Ailline on the evening of the 21st of June this year to observe the much anticipated summer solstice sunset behind the Chair Hills to the NW.When I first met Professor Ronald Hicks on the summit of Dún Ailinne several years ago,I misinterpreted what he had said about the solstice sunset and I had believed that the sun would be seen to descend directly behind the mound on Carrickanearla(believed to be the inauguration site of the Uí Failghe kings),so when I observed the sun set behind the gap between the hill of Dunmurry and the mound on Carrickanearla,I was disappointed to say the least!
However if we're to accept that this solstice sunset observation from the summit of Dún Ailinne was meant to be of symbolic significance(see Prof. Hick's pdf entitled "Dún Ailinne's role in Folklore,Myth and the Sacred Landscape" which can be downloaded from Bawn's 'MegalithicArchaeoAstronomy' Facebook page) to Iron Age observers,then can we say much the same for the neolithic peoples who watched this sunset from the cursus on Long Hill.
The images directly below show a time-lapse sequence of the summer solstice sunset as observed from Dún Ailinne this year and it is also possible to witness this from the E-SE end of the Curragh Cursus.I think the sunset observation from this end of the Cursus may have been more dramatic looking than that witnessed on Dún Ailinne.Unfortunately it won't be possible to observe this phenomenon for the foreseeable future because the view of the Chair Hills is obscured by both buildings and trees today.
The photo below was taken from outside the Curragh camp(unfortunately lower down the slopes of the hill) standing along the sunset alignment from the E-SE end of the Cursus.I've used a bit of artistic licence and placed a solar disc above the summit of Dunmurry hill - Is this what our neolithic ancestors would have seen?
If I were asked if I believed the Cursus was sited and aligned the way it was on the evidence I've given thus far,would I be convinced?I'd have to say not wholly,but it's possible.However,I think there was much more going on here!The Cursus is recorded on the OSI Historic 6" maps(see here): http://maps.osi.ie/publicviewer/#V1,678092,711471,6,7
The Cursus sits on Long hill(itself aligned roughly East-West) orientated on a slight E-SE to W-NW axis.Some contend it was approximately 1.5kms. long and almost 100m. wide,but I think this is somewhat exaggerated and think it was more likely to be just over a kilometre long and approximately 50 metres wide.The OSI map also records clusters of barrows at each end of the Cursus - Cluster 'E' at the W-NW end and Cluster 'F' at the E-SE end(Ref. Pádraig Clancy's study of the ancient monuments of the Curragh).
There is a possibility that the Cursus may have stretched further westward because there's a significant gap between the end of the Cursus as recorded on the OSI map and the barrow Cluster 'E',but without any other recordable evidence available we must just assume it didn't.However,it would probably be much safer to say that the Cursus didn't stretch any further eastward because it's unlikely the Bronze age builders of the barrows,now belonging to Cluster 'F',would have desecrated an earlier monument that they would have believed their very own ancestors had built and revered.So if we can assume with some degree of certainty that the Cursus did not continue further on up the slope,then why not?You can't escape the fact that Dún Ailinne looms large to the southeast as one walks up the slope towards what was the end of the Cursus.From my own investigations in recent days it would seem very obvious to me that Dún Ailinne was the main focus of attention for those who built the Cursus.Although Long hill is mainly orientated East-West,the hill doglegs to the south as one walks further up to its summit.What this effectively does is blocks any views one would ordinarily have of Dún Ailinne to the southeast.This observation again strengthened my belief that the view of Dún Aillinne from the Cursus terminus was of the utmost importance to its neolithic builders.The yellow line in both images below represents the sight-line from the E-SE terminus of the Cursus to Dún Ailinne which lies to the southeast.This illustrates how difficult it would be to see Dún Ailinne if the Cursus banks/ditches had continued for some distance more eastward.
So if the view of Dún Ailinne was meant to be of great importance here,then why was that?I had a sneaking suspicion it had something to do with the Winter solstice sunrise,and low and behold using the 'Photographer's Ephemeris' it did show a direct solstice sunrise alignment from the W-NW end of the Cursus to the center of the hill of Dún Ailinne.Despite this however,I think it's unlikely that the winter solstice sun can be seen to rise directly behind Dún Ailinne from the W-NW end of the Cursus and I think that it's most likely it may be seen to rise up from the bowels of Dún Ailinne whilst watching from the E-SE terminus instead.I've again used a bit of artistic licence with the image below(I've added the sun!),but it is a view one gets of Dún Ailinne from where the E-SE terminus of the Cursus is recorded to have been situated.Obviously my theory will need fine-tuning and will have to wait until December to see if the winter solstice sun does indeed rise above Dún Ailinne.
The image below shows a view of Dún Ailinne from a position close to the W-NW end of the Cursus.
Is there enough evidence here and in my earlier post to suggest that the Cursus was planned and constructed in order to incorporate several important astronomical events?
There would seem to be far too many coincidences going on here to think any other way!I believe this Cursus was used for ritualistic processions at specific times of the year,namely on the May and August cross-quarter days,and on the summer and winter solstices.
By the way Slowburner,I'm not sure this Cursus is/was aligned to the Cursus which was discovered on Knockieran/Lugnagun.It wouldn't have been visible from the E-SE end of the Curragh Cursus either.The Wicklow mountains are extremely difficult to see if one was looking eastward from the Cursus.There are trees everywhere on Long hill now which obscure any views of the Wicklow mountains to the east,but think you may just be able to see the very summits of some of the tallest mountains.Christiaan Corlett and yourself have done great work in this area and his article in the present issue of Archaeology Ireland makes for very interesting reading.
I can see why you weren't back to us sooner - you have been a very busy man! Great stuff, I think you are definitely on to something here. It will be very interesting to see where the sun rises on the winter solstice.
I'm beginning to think myself that a lot of these monuments have less obvious secondary alignments to other dates and that they may have been a calendar of sorts.
However the question in terms of a cursus or a huge mound is why build it so big?
Another great post Bonedigger and thanks for all your work, especially the field work.
We need to be a bit cautious. The absence of a terminal makes it difficult to state with any certainty that the Curragh linear was a cursus in the accepted archaeological sense of the word - whatever that that may be!
At the moment, we are pretty much stuck with the term cursus but personally speaking, I think it is a misnomer.
As I said earlier, I believe that the upland and lowland cursus are distinctly different beasts and may have had entirely different functions.
The term was originally applied by C17th British antiquarians who believed that these (lowland) monuments were Roman racecourses. Of course, subsequent work puts most of these monuments firmly into the early Neolithic. While some of the lowland cursus do exhibit some similarities with the structure of racecourses, there is absolutely no way that the upland monuments could ever be interpreted as racecourses - certainly not involving horse and chariot at any rate.
The Leinster upland monuments are all on extremely steep, treacherous ground.
I'm all in favour of calling the upland class in Ireland - 'Curraghs' just to differentiate them from the more sedate lowland type.
Curiously, the E/W orientation of the Curragh linear is similar to both Lugnagun and Keadeen (and Stonehenge). By far the most frequent orientation of the eighteen or so cursus I have looked at (both here and the UK) is NW/SE.
We also don't know when the Curragh feature was constructed, although it could conceivably date to the first century; if we can accept Hennessy's assertion that 'Curragh' is a derivation of 'cursus'. Then again it could have been a much earlier feature kept in continuous use.
(see Hennessy, W.M., 1866 The Curragh of Kildare. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. 9, pp. 343 - 355)
For sure. There is a mountainous ridge between the two, so it is highly unlikely that Lugnagun and the Curragh relate to each other. Equally, the striking alignment of the Brewell hill cursus with Keadeen mountain may be down to chance - or a commonality of alignment in the monument class.
Sorry for the late reply again guys!I know I'm making it a habit at this stage,but just couldn't gather my thoughts together at all last week.
Yes,I agree with you SB that we need to be cautious about labelling this monument a cursus,and so will henceforth refer to it as a linear.It's intriguing to hear that many of the cursus you've looked at to date have a NW-SE orientation.Could the majority of these cursus have been deliberately aligned to observe solstitial events?
I'm certainly of the opinion that the Curragh linear was constructed to help forecast the approach of several important days or periods in the ancient annual cycle.I have a sneaking suspicion it was primarily used to observe and record the Winter solstice sunrise over Dún Ailinne to the southeast (I've yet to prove that the winter solstice sun is seen to rise above Dún Ailinne,but will endeavour to do so this December - weather and job commitments permitting of course!).During excavations on the summit of Dún Ailinne in the 1970's,several features were unearthed which contained materials of a Neolithic date.A curious pear-shaped ditch(feature 281 in the excavation report),which did not match any known house-foundation or any form of tomb;a pit burial(feature 293) which contained a large portion of a Linkardstown-type decorated bowl and a small perforated stone bead;and a pit(feature 2506) which contained a cache of 13 flint artefacts,interpreted as a deliberate deposit of the Neolithic period.Dún Ailinne it seems was deemed a place of great sacredness for the people inhabiting this area during the Neolithic.
I would contend that the linear was a Neolithic construct and was deliberately built with a direct focus on the sacred hill of Dún Ailinne close-by.Come the mid-winter solstice,the community would gather at this social arena and following directions from their leaders or priests would walk in procession between the banks/ditches towards the top(terminus?) of the linear where they would witness the sun magically rise from the bowels of their sacred hill,a hill where they buried their dead and made offerings to appease the gods and their ancestors,who would help them through the impending harsh winter.Am I talking cobblers here?!I've no evidence to support the fact that I believe the linear was built during the Neolithic,but it's likely it pre-dates the Bronze/Iron Age barrows that lie in clusters at either end.There's also the curious absence of activity on Dún Ailinne between the Neolithic and Iron Age(apart from the deposition of a Bronze Age food vessel in a pit),a gap of nearly two millennia.
A verse in the Dindsenchas mentions how Dún Ailinne/Alend acquired its name:
13. Buirech cast from him straightway
across the rampart(no weakling he!) -
a stone he cast from his spear-arm;
and that is the ail in Alend.
I think the inference here is that Buirech placed the Ail standing upright on a mound that sat at the summit.
Today you will see three very large boulders on the summit,two look like limestone boulders(although it's possible they're both very weathered granite) and an elongated white granite boulder,very like the granite you will see in the Wicklow mountains.Curiously enough,John O'Donovan's survey of Dún Ailinne in 1837 records only "two rough mountain boulders of considerable size.One of these might be the Ail mentioned in the Dindseanchus as placed in the mound by the hero Buirech......".O'Donovan also records a scattering of stone debris on the summit which he interpreted as a "fort.......much effaced",but Estyn Evans suggests this scatter of stone and the large boulders may have been the remnants of a Neolithic/Early Bronze Age cairn.It strikes me that if there was a cairn or a standing stone on the summit,it would have been a very accurate way of marking a particular day in the annual cycle.I'm not sure how accurate the other astronomical events I alluded to in my earlier posts were marked,and although I don't think it's just a coincidence that they can be observed from both ends of the linear,it might be that they were of secondary importance here and were mainly of significance in religious celebrations at those particular times of the year.
Forgive my doodling once again but I think the image below can give you a better idea of what I'm trying to convey here.Estyn Evans suggested that a cairn may have sat at the summit of Dún Ailinne and I have to say I'm quite convinced by this!Is this what the Neolithic community who inhabited the Curragh plains would have seen at the Winter solstice sunrise as they watched from the linear on Long Hill?
Or perhaps,there may have been a large monolith at the summit,but basing this hypothesis solely on verses found in a medieval poem such as the Dindsenchas may be a tad foolhardy!The image below shows the large boulders that now sit on the summit of Dún Ailinne.There's a visible line of drill holes in the large elongated white granite boulder.You can clearly see weathering on one side,but the opposite side shows areas which look significantly fresher,which could suggest it was deliberately broken in recent times.Was this boulder part of a much larger monolith or could these boulders have been used as kerbstones surrounding a cairn?
I'm not sure Bawn why this linear(if it was a calendrical instrument) was so massive.I can only guess it was perhaps a pre-cursor to the smaller and more sophisticated ones we're most familiar with at Loughcrew and the Boyne valley,but I'm not sure?Apart from its uses which I've outlined above,could it also have been seen as a territorial marker?Was its massiveness meant to be interpreted as a metaphor for the power and formidable nature of the tribe who built it.Were they saying to other neighbouring tribes "We are strong,powerful and many - keep away!!!"The Chair hills to the northwest may very well have been a natural territorial boundary(the old Gaelic kingdom of the Uí Failghe lay just beyond these hills) and it's rather curious that the Curragh linear sits on the west-facing slope of Long hill,effectively facing the Chair hills to the northwest.It's not inconceivable to believe that the ancestors of the Uí Failghe were the formidable foes of those who built the Curragh linear.Inter-tribal conflict during the Neolithic is not so far fetched an idea!Recent archaeological investigations in Britain have shown that conflict in the Neolithic may have been commonplace.Hambledon hill in Dorset,and Crickley hill in Gloucestershire,have both produced evidence of such conflict - masses of flint arrowheads have been excavated close to the entrances of the encampments and they believe the enclosure's ramparts were also partially damaged during these skirmishes too.Here's a link to an interesting article in relation to Neolithic conflict:
I'll leave you guys with just one other curious and exciting finding!I've always been aware that the Curragh linear was aligned to Kildare town to the northwest,but didn't really know why that might be.If the north-northwest end of the linear was extended,it would eventually reach Kildare town which lies 5kms. away.The most curious thing about this is that the alignment passes directly through the site of St.Brigid's Cathedral,which is also the site of the 12th.Century Round Tower.A monastery was founded here by St.Brigid in the 6th.Century.According to early medieval texts,it was believed to be the site of a pre-christian shrine to the Goddess Brigid and a fire was kept perpetually lit there by a group of young women.There was a belief that this fire was still kept alight by Brigidine nuns up until the arrival of the Normans!Why would the linear have any relationship with this sacred site?Well,using the 'Photographer's Ephemeris',I was able to see that there was a summer solstice sunset alignment between the site of the Cathedral and the ring-barrow KD022-009(remember that one in my first post?) on the summit of Red Hill to the northwest.So effectively what we have going on here is a linear which can conceivably mark the Winter solstice sunrise and another site which has a very tangible link to it,marking the Summer solstice sunset.So it seems Bawn that this calendrical instrument is possibly larger than we could ever have imagined!
Great stuff Bonedigger - really great post. Your research sounds very exciting. Nothing like getting a scent and following it! Regarding the winter solstice sunset - looking at the photo of Dun Ailline from the end of the cursus, I'd personally be very impressed even if the sun set at the 'intersection' of dun ailline with the hill behind it. I'd argue for intentionality then even if there was no cairn to mark its setting.
Again very interesting regarding the red hill barrow and St Brigids cathedral - here is a link to the Fire Temple in the grounds of St Brigids Cathedral http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/8312/kildare.html. I think you will need to get the walking boots again - see what the view is like from Red Hill to Kildare. See if there is anything that stands out on the landscape at Kildare?
I was just looking and realised I had visited "The Chair" back in the day. I had totally forgotten! There is an interesting bit of folklore added as well by another poster. Might be of some interest. http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/8310/chair_of_kildare.html
That "intersection" between Dún Ailinne and the hill behind was something I had noticed myself,and in fact that's more or less where I put the sun in the images I uploaded.Hopefully I'll get a chance to pop up there this December.
Believe it or not,I've not set foot on Red Hill yet,but did have a look at the view from the grounds of the Cathedral last week.Red Hill is only 3.5kms. away and I bet the Summer solstice sunset looks rather impressive as it descends behind the hill.
This 'Fire Temple' sounds intriguing!The temple was believed to have housed a shrine to the Celtic Goddess Brigid.The Goddess Brigid was also associated with the ancient festival of Imbolc,which was celebrated close to the February cross-quarter day.Here's where it gets spooky!I've just checked and it would appear that the present site of the Cathedral(site of the ancient temple) and Dún Ailinne are both directly aligned to the February cross-quarter day sunrise.In reality,I'm not sure if it was possible to see the Feb. cross-quarter day sun rise above the summit of Dún Ailinne from the site of the temple,because some of Wicklow's largest mountains loom large behind it,including Lugnaquilla.Of course it may all depend at what elevation you're standing at?The temple site is roughly on the highest point of a ridge(at an elevation of 108m.) that was called Drum Criadh/Drumcree(Ridge of Clay),which was later named Cill Dara(the Church of the Oak) following the founding of the monastery there by St.Brigid.So if you were standing at the site of the temple on Drum Criadh,you would in effect be looking up at the summit of Dún Ailinne,and it's just possible you may see the sunrise if there was a dip or a gap between the mountains beyond.To be honest,I'm not sure if it's even possible to see Dún Ailinne today from the site of the Cathedral,but I can certainly check that out.It's bizarre what's going on here with all these astronomical alignments!
By the way,thanks for the links.
Sorry I was confused there - I thought u meant the sun set in the direction of the cathedral from red hill not the other way around (not that it matters) .
This picture I think shows the barrow on red hill and in the middle of the photo I think you can make out the cathedral! (the sticky up point is visible between the yellow furze bush) http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/post/46248/red_hill.html
The question then is - are these all coincidences and if not what does it all mean? I look forward to hearing more from your investigations.
Yeah,just to clarify - the sun on the summer solstice would descend behind Red Hill if you were observing from the grounds of the present Cathedral.
I've not seen the barrow yet,nor what the surrounding landscape looks like from the hill,but I think that "sticky up point" in the background might very well be the Roman Catholic church spire instead?I'll try to get up there one of these days and upload an image or two.
What's going on here?Well your guess is as good as mine,but I'm definitely thinking the astronomical alignments at these places is not just coincidental.I think what it's telling us is those who were using them were a dynamic and sophisticated lot,but we knew that already!
If I find anything else curious,I'll keep you posted.
Here is the (short) list of potential August Cross-Quarter day sites for the 7th August. Hopefully a few people will get out to observe and record some of these alignments.
Absolutely fascinating thread folks. You all probably saw the recent BBC2 programme on Stonehenge- the use of the cursus, intriguingly using both ends for two alignments to "fix" the location of the Stonehenge monument itself. This seems to be another use for linears.
List of the potential Equinox alignments. The Equinox is officially on the 23rd September this year so only a week to go.
The first programme was fascinating,but may have missed the second one,or is it due to be aired at the end of this week?
Bawn - I was on the Curragh for the August cross-quarter and have disappointing news!I'll hopefully try to come back later when I have more time and let you know of my findings.
I had a look at the programme on Stonehenge as well and thought it was really good. Thanks to Babba above for mentioning it.
I look forward to hearing the news, even if it is disappointing!
Yeah,as I mentioned earlier,the recent cross-quarter sunset I observed from a barrow close to the Gibbet rath was a massive disappointment to say the least!
You may recall from my original post that I believed there was a possibility that the August and May cross-quarter sunsets were seen to descend behind Red Hill,at or close to a ring-barrow on its summit.The following image,which was taken last year from the Gibbet rath looked quite convincing:
However,these images show this year's August cross-quarter sunset as seen from a barrow 300 metres SE of the Gibbet rath(this barrow was on a direct alignment between the ring-barrow on Red Hill and the NW end of the linear/cursus on Long Hill):
As you can see,the setting sun at this point is directly above the site of the ring-barrow on the hill,but has still some way to descend before it disappears behind the hill.I have to say,I was desperately disappointed and have to admit am slightly embarrassed having been so convinced beforehand.
Last years's photo was taken with an ordinary prime lens and would have captured what one would have seen with the naked eye.This year's image was taken using a 300mm. zoom lens and there's certainly no arguing with what we're seeing.It tears my theory to shreds!
There is a slim possibility however that the upcoming September equinox sunset may be seen to descend behind the site of St.Brigids Cathedral on Drum Criadh,in Kildare town.I'll check that out and keep you posted.
I'm still convinced that the Winter Solstice sunrise may be seen to rise up from behind Dún Ailinne as one looked on from the SE end of the Curragh linear/cursus.Thankfully the 21st. of December falls on a Sunday this year,so I'll have Saturday and Sunday to test this theory out(weather permitting of course).