Already part of the Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site, Newgrange is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ireland and if a second chamber is uncovered it will add to its already global iconic status.
Newgrange is synonymous with sunrise on the winter solstice but the possibility that it has another as yet unknown chamber is not being ruled out.
Indeed the neighbouring mounds at Knowth and Dowth each have two passages.
“The absolute best case scenario would be to demonstrate there is an undiscovered passage and chamber within Newgrange because despite how it may look the mound has not been fully excavated,” said Dr Conor Brady, archaeologist with Dundalk Institute of Technology.
The north-west side of the mound has never been excavated so, “it is technically possible there is something there on that side of the mound”.
There are local folklore stories of when the caretaker of the monument opened up the tomb about 40 or 50 years ago that she heard a big crash.
She went into the chamber expecting to find it collapsed but it hadn’t, “and whether there was something else in the monument that had collapsed is the question”, he added.
He is working with Prof Roman Pasteka from Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia, and Kevin Barton, an archaeology geophysicist.
“It is great for us to be involved in this type of archaeology and Newgrange is so well known and we are very excited to be working at such a site. It is really an amazing place,” said Prof Pasteka.
The funding for the week-long survey has been provided through the Slovakian Scientific Academy.
His team has specialised in using microgravity surveying technology to detect underground cavities and Dr Brady says “this is a unique opportunity to further the scientific investigation of the tomb and refine the use of the technique for use on world wide archaeological sites. It has already been used very successfully at the pyramids in Egypt to identify the location of passages and chambers.”
Kevin said the microgravity meter responds to variations in density in the ground beneath it.
“We are looking for a hidden chamber and passage way within the tomb. Where you have an air-filled cavity, which is what a chamber is, it has very low density and from the measurements you maybe able to infer because the mound is of a high density if this (low density) is due to a hidden passageway or chamber.”
If the surveys do confirm another passage Dr Brady said “it will change the way we think about Newgrange. It could be aligned with the winter solstice sunset; Newgrange will be a completely different entity after that.”