Home' Nova West : March 2010 Contents 16
© NOVA MARCH 2010
There are many environmental
mysteries, ancient and modern.
The most recent, those to do with
the Copenhagen summit and
local politics, escape me almost entirely. But
strangely, the oldest encounters of humans
with the physical world recapture my hope
in humanity, and a sense of wonder about
what might be possible in the time ahead of
us, this time of climate change.
Let's begin with some of the most ancient
of mysteries. The memory of sitting inside
Newgrange, a couple of weeks before the
winter solstice in Ireland, remains one of
the most extraordinary moments of my
life; a living mystery to make contact, at
least through proximity, with the builders
so long ago, who would have stood where
I stood in the cosy inner chamber. Why do
archaeologists call this place a burial mound,
when the passageway within is perfectly
situated to capture, on the shortest day
of winter, dawn's eastern midwinter light,
penetrating the megalithic mound, filling
the inside with sun for 17 minutes, a
conception that the long nights are now
curtailed and summer will inevitably
return? Isn't it the rebirth of life? An
insemination of light into the earth's
womb? The sense of wonder in that place is
In 1969, a younger Helen O'Kelly
witnessed the event when her father
discovered the roof box. "He was the first
person in about 5,000 years to see it," Helen
says, "a very emotional experience, a cultural
confirmation of a culture so old." Fascinating,
too, that the site was a place identified
with Oenghus, the Irish god of love.
When I read once that this "tomb" was
enclosed around 3200 BC, I felt a chill go
down the back of my neck. For inexplicably,
around the same time, the Egyptians started
building pyramids, and mummifying, no
longer leaving their dead to the western
desert. I have no idea what this vague
coincidence may mean, but there is
something in me that nevertheless feels a
sense of wonder. Wonder at the megalithic
people on the edge of Europe who would
toil away for 20 years building Newgrange,
with its scrolling spirals recollecting the
movement of the sun above and beneath the
earth, and then their near-contemporaries,
those ser ving the sky-climbing pyramids,
declaring their compact with time, to endure
for millennia. A mystery!
A close enigma is the east-facing Sphin x
-- apart from its own antiquity, the question of
how a layer of erosion, vertical undulations,
appears on the body and not the Great
Pyramid nearby. Was it rainfall, dating the
Sphin x much older than her companions?
The geologists' debate about limestone
textures is still raging. The outcome shifts
the ground from underneath us. Was
the Sphinx constructed in 2500 BC, as
commonly understood, or much, much
Ancient mysteries speak
eloquently to us now as we
face choices that shape
the future, says Adrian
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