Updated October 2021: The Newgrange passage tomb in Co. Meath, part of the popular Brú na Bóinne heritage site, was the focus of a 2020 genetics research project that produced some startling results.
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Published in the journal “Nature,” the article titled, “Family Ties: Interbreeding Among the Ruling Dynasty of Neolithic Ireland,” has revealed the distinct possibility of inbreeding at the highest reaches of ancient Irish society.
Researchers from several universities in Ireland, including Trinity College, discovered signs of incest in an adult male buried in the heart of the passage tomb.
The chief research scientist, Dr. Lara Cassidy, was quoted as saying that the two copies of the individual’s genome (which normally come from one’s father and mother) were extremely similar, confirming to the scientific team that the parents were “first-degree relatives.”
Other results from the genome study revealed that the man who lived at this ancient site had distant family relations in other important megalithic sites in Ireland.
They included the Carrowmore and Carrowkeel burial sites in Co. Sligo, which indicates a powerful extended family on the other side of the island.
A male infant who was buried about 5,000 years ago in the Poulnabrone portal tomb on the Burren landscape in Co. Clare has revealed the earliest known case of Down Syndrome, another sign of inbreeding amongst the population.
Inbreeding in ancient cultures is not new.
Similar evidence has been found in the Inca cultures in South America and among the Egyptian pharaohs.
About the Newgrange Passage Tomb
The Newgrange passage tomb is older than Stonehenge and the pyramids.
People gather each year on the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice, to witness the annual solar alignment when light from the sun illuminates the inner chamber.
The ancient passageway is about 62 feet long (19 meters) and leads into a chamber that has three alcoves.
The circular structure from the outside measures 279 feet (85 meters) in diameter and 43 feet in height (13 meters) in an area that takes up about one acre.
You’ll see 97 large stones around the structure, often referred to as “kerbstones.”
Many of them are engraved with megalithic art. The most striking example of this is on the entrance stone.
The Brú na Bóinne heritage site, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, also includes two other sites known as Knowth and Dowth.
You can visit the ancient sites of Newgrange and Knowth by guided tour only.
There are various tour options available.
They include the Brú na Bóinne Tour, which includes a visit to Knowth and the exterior of Newgrange; and the Brú na Bóinne Plus Newgrange Chamber Tour, which includes a visit to Newgrange and Knowth, with access to the chamber at Newgrange.
You can visit Dowth separately without going to the Brú na Bóinne center.
The Brú na Boinne Visitor Centre is open throughout the year.