Thursday, 13 April 2017

Painting with light: the three most highly decorated kerb stones at Newgrange in gorgeous detail

To celebrate the fact that the Mythical Ireland Facebook page has just passed 30,000 likes, I am revealing these three images of the most decorated kerb stones at Síd in Broga (Newgrange). The photos were taken in the pre-dawn twilight around winter solstice, with the kind permission of the Office of Public Works (OPW). In order to capture these stones in a way that has probably never been seen before, I used an old technique called "painting with light".

Kerb stone 52 at Newgrange, which is diametrically opposite the entrance kerb stone, K1.
My favourite of the three is the above photo of kerb 52 (K52), which can be found at the very rear of the mound, diametrically opposite the entrance kerb stone (K1). I'd only ever previously been able to photograph this stone in daylight. And while I have a couple of nice photos of it, I always longed to use the painting with light technique on it. The image was captured by putting the camera on a tripod and keeping the shutter open for about 15 seconds. During this time, I was "painting" the stone with light using a small LED torch, first from the right and then from the left. The result is an image that I've been waiting for years to achieve. I hope you like it. I have speculated that it contains representations of stars we know today as Orion's Belt and Sirius. At the time of the construction of Newgrange, Sirius was visible from its interior chamber as it transited the roof box.

Spirals on the entrance kerb stone at Newgrange, kerb 1 (K1).
The entrance kerb stone at Newgrange is one of the most famous artefacts from the ancient world, and its design has been photographed perhaps millions of times over the decades. One of the OPW guides at Newgrange regularly tells visitors that "it's the most photographed stone in the world, after Mick Jagger"! Sometimes, especially in midwinter, the evening sunlight catches this stone so that it is illuminated at a very shallow angle, which is the perfect angle for bringing out the relief. I have in previous years been able to get a nice photo using remote flash to achieve the same result. However, I still think that the above image, painted with light during dark twilight, is better than anything I would have achieved during the day.

Kerb stone 67 with its double spiral, triangles and lozenges.
The other of the three most decorated kerb stones at Newgrange, and perhaps the least famous, is this one, kerb 67. It is remarkable that of the 97 huge greywackle slabs that form the kerb around Newgrange, only three are highly decorated. There are carvings on plenty of others, but K1, K52 and K67 are the only stones that feature designs over most of their visible surface. Fascinatingly, there are some stones that are decorated on their rear side, where the carvings cannot be seen.

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