More than 5,000 years ago people in Ireland carved a representation of an eclipse into three stones at a megalithic monument—the first known recording of a solar eclipse, scholars say. Researchers have further noted that the sun shines into a chamber of this monument in County Meath on the later ancient Celtic festivals of Samhain and Imbolc.
Our ancient Irish ancestors carved images of an ancient eclipse into giant stones over 5,000 years ago, on November 30, 3340 BC to be exact. This is the oldest known recorded solar eclipse in history. The illustrations are found on the Stone Age “Cairn L,” on Carbane West, at Loughcrew, outside Kells, in County Meath. The landscape of rolling hills is littered with Neolithic monuments. Some say that originally there were at least 40 to 50 monuments, but others say the figure was more like 100.
“Cairn L” received a mention in Astronomy Ireland’s article: “Irish Recorded Oldest Known Eclipse 5355 Years Ago.” They write that the Irish Neolithic astronomer priests recorded the events on three stones relating to the eclipse, as seen from that location.
Researchers Jack Roberts and Martin Brennan found the sun illuminates a chamber in the monuments on November 1 and February 2, the cross-quarter days, which marked dates halfway between solstices and equinoxes.
A solar eclipse, May 20, 2012 (Photo by Brocken Inaglory/Wikimedia Commons)
November 1 is the end of summer, which is what Samhain means. The ancient Celts, who came later than the people who made the eclipse carving, considered Samhain the beginning of winter. Christians call it All Saints Day.
February 2, or Imbolc, is midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It was later celebrated by Christians as Candlemas and in Ireland as St. Brigit’s Day. The Celts called it the Festival of Lights and lit every candle and lamp in the house to commemorate the rebirth of the sun. Christians too celebrated February 2 with lights. On that day candles were lit in churches to celebrate the presentation of Jesus Christ in the Jerusalem temple.
The Irish called it Imbolc (“lamb’s milk”) because it was when lambing season started.
“It was also called Brigantia for the Celtic female deity of light, calling attention to the Sun’s being halfway on its advance from the winter solstice to the spring equinox,” Alamanac.com explains.
Angels take St. Bride or Brigit, a Catholicized ancient Celtic goddess of light, to Bethlehem to foster the Christ child, John Duncan (Sofi/Flickr)
Imbolc is also called Brigit’s Day. Brigit means The Bright One. This sun goddess, later subsumed into the Catholic roster of saints, presided over the forge and hearth, crops, livestock and nature and also inspired skills of sacred arts and crafts, according to Celticatlanta.com.
Irish Central reports that many people believe the Celts invented the Festival of Lights to welcome the eclipse. They are also believed to have predicted when the eclipse would happen.
Brennan and Roberts noted the sun may not have shown into the chamber on Samhain and Imbolc when the Celts built it in 3340 BC.
In addition, Brennan and Roberts observed full moonlight illuminating the end of the cairn, where light shone on a cup mark on the endstone on August 26, 1980. Then, as the light moved across the chamber, it illuminated the bottom of the Whispering Stone.
“The 3340 BC eclipse is the only eclipse that fits out of the 92 solar eclipses in history tracked by Irish archaeoastronomer expert, Paul Griffin,” Irish Central says. “With none of the technology available to our modern experts the ancient Irish constructed these complex structures, that not only endured over 5,000 years, but were built with such accuracy that they continue to perform their astronomical functions today.”
Within Cairn L is a tall stone pillar called the Whispering Stone, 2 meters tall (7 feet). Irish Central believes that the chamber and cairn were built to house the Whispering Stone.
Featured image: One of the Loughcrew eclipse rocks (IrishCentral)
By Mark Miller