Megalithic art studies by M.J. O'Kelly and C. O'Kelly


The following 10 motifs are defined (M.J. O'Kelly and C. O'Kelly [1983, page 159-160]): Subdivided in curvilinear (circles, spirals, arcs, serpentiforms, dot-in-circles and radials) and rectilinear (zigzag, lozenges/triangles, offsets and parallel lines).
Cupmarks are not a motif in the above scheme, because it was difficult to distinguish between natural hollows and man made ones.


A complete corpus of known megalithic art is provided for Newgrange (M.J. O'Kelly [1982]) and Dowth (M.J. O'Kelly and C. O'Kelly [1983]). Cup marks are not depircted.

Interesting issues

Almost no pick dressing has taken place at Dowth, while at Newgrange almost every orthostats is pick dressed.
The quality of the technique or artistry of the megalithic art at Dowth is lower than at Newgrange or Knowth.
It is possible to distinguish Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth by the use of motifs. E.g. Newgrange has relatively much more triangles/lozenges, dot-in-circles and zigzags than Dowth.
In Newgrange lozenge and zigzags are the commonest, then circles, dot-in-circles, radials (but they are in inconspicuous places), than spirals. The rarest motifs at Newgrange are radials, parallel lines and offsets.


The alignment of Newgrange is given towards winter solstice. The True north direction in the general plan of Newgrange (page 15) is wrong. Below is a better alignment of the True north:
Newgrange with proper North direction

Accurate information on the direction of the roofbox can be found at this page.
The alignments measured by O'Kelly at Dowth are: Dowth North 250 and Dowth South: 234. New measurements have been taken with a magnetic compasss [Prendergast and Ray, 2002]. See for evaluation of these values my Dowth measurement page.

Cut-through of the passage

It looks that the cut through of the passage on page 88 is not correct. The heights are ok, but the incline of the passage is not correct (wonder how this was achieved;-). Page 94 and 108 look to be ok.


... that the symbolical meaning was the original inspiration for Irish passage-grave art, beginning with the random carving of motifs which had a meaning for those who applied them, or caused them to be applied, and that it was only with the passage of time, as the tomb builders became more expert and sophisticated generally, that the aesthetic element in the carvings began to emerge and develop and designs and patterns began to be achieved, though perhaps this aspect never entirely overruled the symbolism, latent or otherwise (O' Kelly [1982], page 147-148).

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Last content related changes: Aug. 18, 2001