Happy Spring Equinox to all our readers

20 03 2015

Originally posted on The Heritage Trust:

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Friday will see a rare cosmic coincidence. Was Stonehenge used to predict eclipses?

19 03 2015

As the eclipse plunges Wiltshire and other places into darkness this Friday (March 20th), two other rare if less spectacular celestial events will be taking place, too: the Spring equinox and a Supermoon. Friday will see three rare celestial events and this will be the first time in living memory that the Spring equinox, a solar eclipse, and a supermoon are all taking place on the same day in the UK.

One of the most intriguing mysteries in the world is the Stonehenge. Nobody knows who built the mysterious Stone Circle in Wiltshire, or what its purpose was exactly. There are many theories associated with Stonehenge and archaeologists have been debating for ages to determine why it was built. Most experts believe that Stonehenge is actually an ancient astronomical calculator.

Eclipses have long been feared as bad omens, but the equinox is celebrated as a time of renewal

Eclipses have long been feared as bad omens, but the equinox is celebrated as a time of renewal

Eclipse Cycles

Now, it’s widely accepted that Stonehenge was used to predict eclipses. The inner “horseshoe” of 19 stones at the very heart of Stonehenge actually acted as a long-term calculator that could predict lunar eclipses. By moving one of Stonehenge’s markers along the 30 markers of the outer circle, it’s discovered that the cycle of the moon can be predicted. Moving this marker one lunar month at a time – as opposed to one lunar day the others were moved – made it possible for them to mark when a lunar eclipse was going to occur in the typical 47-month lunar eclipse cycle. The marker would go around the circle 38 times and halfway through its next circle, on the 47th full moon, a lunar eclipse would occur.

Aubrey Holes
Stonehenge has a ring of 56 pits that are now known as Aubrey holes, after antiquarian John Aubrey. They date back to the late fourth and early fifth millennium. These holes were not really noticed until the 1920s. It’s believed that the only standing feature at Stonehenge at the time these holes were dug was the Heel Stone – the marker of the midsummer sunrise – but this is now proven false. Some experts believe they were meant to hold timbers or more stones, but the astronomical interpretations of these holes are very interesting. It’s also believed that the holes helped to predict astronomical events. Complicated math theories back this up to some degree, as some lunar eclipses can be predicted by using numbers associated with Stonehenge. It’s even believed that Stonehenge was used to keep track of lunar cycles by moving marker stones two holes per day, ending with 56 holes.

Hawkins
Meanwhile, Gerald Hawkins studied Stonehenge much later, in 1965, using computer programs. He found multiple solar and lunar alignments that correlated with the location

of Stonehenge. He set his data so that the positions of the stars and planets would match where they were in 1500 B.C., when he believed it was built, and found that 13 solar correlations and 11 lunar correlations matched up with the megalithic stages. In other words, he believed Stonehenge was used to predict astronomical events. He also believed that it was built to align with the position of the summer and winter solstices.

What is a solar eclipse?
A solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between the sun and the earth, hiding the sun from view and blocking out the sunlight that usually reaches us.

The eclipse, which will be partial, not total, will begin here at around 8.45am on Friday and peak at around 9.30am before ending at 10.30am. It will be the biggest eclipse since August 1999.

Spring equinox

The equinox will also happen on March 20th. While it won’t have any discernable, direct impact on how the solar eclipse looks, it will contribute to a rare collision of three unusual celestial events.

On March 20th, the Earth’s axis will be perpindecular to the sun’s rays — which only happens twice a year, at the two equinoxes. After that, it will start tipping over, making the days longer in the northern hemisphere.

As such, the equinox has long been celebrated as a time of beginning and renewal, by a number of historic cultures, and is linked to Easter and Passover.

The equinox will happen at the same time as a solar eclipse in 2053 and 2072, though it doesn’t always appear as close together as that.

English Heritage will welcome people to Stonehenge to celebrate the Spring (Vernal) Equinox on Saturday 21st March. Expect a short period of access, from first light (approximately 05:45am) until 08:30am. Click here for more info

Supermoon

A very rare supermoon eclipse of the sun is happening this week that won’t take place again until 2034.  A supermoon is when a full, or new moon coincides with the night when the earth and moon’s orbits move them slightly closer together, making the moon look about 14% bigger, and 30% brighter than normal. This generally happens roughly once every 14 months, but can happen more often; in January 2014, there were actually two supermoons in a single month.

In the past, groups have argued that the supermoon could cause natural disasters, madness, or even throw the earth off its axis. Experts agree that the worst thing that might happen is the tide comes in another inch that night.  As well as a supermoon, there is also an event when a full moon is as far away from earth as possible; this is called a micromoon, for obvious reasons.

Some useful Links:

Solar eclipse, Supermoon, Spring equinox:

Solar Eclipse, Supermoon, Spring Equinox: 3 Rare Celestial Events Align March 20th

Solar Eclipse 2015: How to watch a solar eclipse safely

Stonehenge: An Astronomical Calculator

Astro-Archaeology at Stonehenge

Remember that no one should look directly at the sun during a partial eclipse without proper equipment, as it can damage the eyes.

Merlin at Stonehenge
The Stonehenge News Blog
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Was #Stonehenge a ‘Mecca on stilts’?

18 03 2015

Structure supported a wooden platform to get ‘closer to the heavens’, claims expert 

  • Historian Julian Spalding has provided a new theory on Stonehenge
  • He says the stones were pillars used to support a raised platform
  • This would have had people of importance upon it, with others below
  • A ramp or stairs would have led to the top of the platform
  • But the wood has long since rotted away, leaving only the stones behind 
Historian Julian Spalding has provided a new theory on Stonehenge. He says the stones were pillars used to support a raised platform during ceremonies. As shown in this illustration, steps or a ramp would have led to the top of the platform, where figures of importance would have stood, perhaps addressing a crowd below.  Copyright @Daily Mail

Historian Julian Spalding has provided a new theory on Stonehenge. He says the stones were pillars used to support a raised platform during ceremonies. As shown in this illustration, steps or a ramp would have led to the top of the platform, where figures of importance would have stood, perhaps addressing a crowd below. Copyright @Daily Mail

Whether it was a Druid temple, an astronomical calendar or a centre for healing, the mystery of Stonehenge has sparked endless debate over the centuries.

Now a dramatic new theory suggests that the prehistoric stone circle monument was in fact ‘an ancient Mecca on stilts’.

The megaliths would not have been used for ceremonies at ground level, but would instead have supported a circular wooden platform on which ceremonies were performed to the rotating heavens, according to new research.

Julian Spalding, former director of some of the UK’s leading museums, argues that the stones were foundations for a vast platform, long since lost – ‘a great altar’ raised up high towards the heavens and able to take the weight of hundreds of worshippers.

‘It’s a totally different theory which has never been put forward before,’ he said.

‘All the interpretations to date could be mistaken. We’ve been looking at Stonehenge the wrong way, from the earth, which is very much a 20th-century viewpoint. We haven’t been thinking about what they were thinking about.’

Part of his evidence lies in ancient civilisations worldwide. As far afield as China, Peru and Turkey, such sacred monuments were built high up, whether on manmade or natural sites, and with circular patterns possibly linked to celestial movements.

‘In early times, no spiritual ceremonies would have been performed on the ground,’ said Mr Spalding.

The Pharaoh of Egypt and the Emperor of China were always carried – as the Pope used to be… The feet of holy people were not allowed to touch the ground. We’ve been looking at Stonehenge from a modern, earth-bound perspective.

‘All the great raised altars of the past suggest that the people who built Stonehenge would never have performed celestial ceremonies on the lowly earth… That would have been unimaginably insulting to the immortal beings, for it would have brought them down from heaven to bite the dust and tread in the dung.’

However, he says the wood that would have been used for the platform has long since rotted away, leaving only the stone pillars that support it behind.

Mr Spalding’s museum directorships include Glasgow, which boasts world-class archaeological collections within a complex of institutions that exceed the British Museum in size.

Today, he published his theories in a new book, titled Realisation: From Seeing to Understanding – The Origins of Art, published by Wilmington Square Books.

It explores our ancestors’ understanding of the world, offering new explanations of iconic works of art and monuments.

Stonehenge, built in stages between 3000 and 2000 BC, is England’s most famous prehistoric monument, a Unesco World Heritage site on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire that draws more than one million annual visitors.

It began as a timber circle, later made permanent with massive blocks of stone, many somehow dragged from dolerite rock in the Welsh mountains.

Dolerite has a bluish tinge and is dappled with white spots that look like stars, according to Mr Spalding.

‘These megaliths, weighing between two and four tons each, were transported 250 miles [400km], an extraordinary achievement in those times, which indicates that building Stonehenge was a massive communal enterprise,’ he said.

He believes that ancient worshippers would have reached the giant altar by climbing curved wooden ramps or staircases, moving in the direction of the slowly circulating stars for ceremonies dedicated to, for example, a dead king’s soul or midsummer and solstice celebrations.

His theories have been shaped by visits to ancient sites like the stone circles of Göbekli Tepe in southern Turkey, reminiscent of Stonehenge but predating it by around 6,000 years.

Only a fraction of the site has been excavated, and the purpose of its T-shaped pillars is a mystery, Spalding said: ‘These must have supported some sort of raised platform.’

He also points to the Nazca Lines in Peru, vast drawings apparently etched into Earth’s surface more than 2,000 years ago on to a high natural plateau above the villages where they lived: ‘They went up to the sacred place. These lines were a processional way, which followed the movement and shape of the stars.

‘The great mystery of early man was that we all thought the world was flat. Everyone did until very recent times. All the major religious ceremonies, as the Haj still does in Mecca, always ends in a circular motion, going round and round, which imitates the stars.’

Professor Vincent Gaffney, principal investigator on the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project at Bradford University, responded with ‘a fair degree of scepticism.’

He said: ‘At Stonehenge, there are other structures which are clearly designed to be viewed from the ground, along astronomic alignments, and you can see the sky from pretty much anywhere.’

Sir Barry Cunliffe, a prehistorian and Emeritus Professor of European Archaeology, Oxford University, said: ‘He could be right, but I know of no evidence to support it… There are a large number of stone circles around the country which clearly didn’t have a platform on top. So why should Stonehenge?’

But Aubrey Burl, an authority on prehistoric stone circles, said: ‘There could be something in it. There is a possibility, of course. Anything new and worthwhile about Stonehenge is well worth looking into, but with care and consideration.’

Mr Spalding is fully expecting resistance from fellow academics. He draws parallels with the 1868 discovery of magnificent prehistoric ceiling paintings in the Altamira Cave in Spain, by a geologist and archaeologist.

‘He went in there and looked on the ground – because he assumed all the evidence for early man would be on the ground,’ he said.

‘It never occurred to him to look up. It was his young daughter who said, papa look on the ceiling.’

Experts at the time denounced those paintings as forgeries. It was not until the end of the 19th century that they were accepted as genuine.

Read the full article (source) in the Daily Mail

Merlin at Stonehenge
The Stonehenge News Blog





Solstice celebrations at #Stonehenge: the sensible way forward.

10 03 2015

Originally posted on The Heritage Journal:

Following the recent wide publicity we would like to make our position clear regarding solstice celebrations at Stonehenge:


We have no objections whatsoever to solstice celebrations at Stonehenge subject to the simple proviso that they don’t involve damage or disrespect to the monument by which we mean significant litter, urine, vomit, faeces or deliberate marks on the stones – or any climbing up or standing on them (both of which are not open for debate as they are illegal under the government regulations by which English Heritage is bound).
.
We feel those obvious parameters should have been imposed many years ago on a zero tolerance basis and we look forward to the speedy publication of measures to achieve them. We trust the reforms will be announced not debated and that they will be judged by results this summer and will be revised thereafter as necessary. To this end…

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The Stonehenge Landscape Tour, introduced by Phil Harding: CBA Members’ Event

22 02 2015

Join Time Team favourite Phil Harding and expert guide Pat Shelley for a unique exploration of the Stonehenge landscape at the exclusive Council for British Archaeology (CBA) and English Heritage (EH) members’ event on Sunday 19th April 2015.

EH-Tour

The pair will be leading a walk through some of the often-overlooked enigmatic elements of the landscape, combining rich archaeological background with personal anecdotes and replica artefacts. The walk will take around an hour and a half, and highlights will include round barrows at nearby Fargo Woods and the Cursus barrow group, before visiting the Cursus itself. The culmination of the walk will see our group descending into Stonehenge Bottom before walking up the Avenue to Stonehenge.

CBA and EH members will meet at the Stonehenge Visitor Centre where they can enjoy complimentary refreshments Phil supporting the New YAC Dolls raising money for the Young Archaeologists' Clubbefore beginning the walk at 11.30am. Participants should wear suitable clothing and footwear for the walk, and be of a reasonable level of fitness. Please note that this is a walk around the wider Stonehenge landscape putting the monument into its context, and does not include access into the stones themselves.

Tickets for this CBA and EH members’ event are just £30 per head, and can be booked now via the English Heritage events booking line on: 0370 333 1183. Proceeds from the walk will go towards supporting the work of the Young Archaeologists’ Club (YAC).

Phil Harding is best known and loved as the hat-wearing archaeologist from Channel 4’s Time Team. His expertise lies in© www.tripadvisor.com.au prehistory, and his personal experience and anecdotes – coupled with the opportunity to handle some of his beautiful handmade replica artefacts – will add a unique extra dimension to your walking tour.

Pat Shelley is an experienced independent guide, with years of experience of bringing Stonehenge and its landscape to life. Described on ‘TripAdvisor’ as “the ONLY way to see Stonehenge”, Pat is an engaging speaker who will be only to pleased to share his love of Stonehenge with you, and answer any questions that you might have.

Visit the Council for British Archaeology Website for full details.

Visit the English Heritage website if you are planning to visit Stonehenge

Stonehenge Guided Tours offer frequent tours and many also include ‘Stonehenge Inner Circle Access Tours

The Visit Wiltshire website lists local operators based in Salisbury offering Stonehenge tours

Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge News Blog





Stonehenge Spring (Vernal) Equinox Open Access Arrangements 2015

13 02 2015

English Heritage will welcome people to Stonehenge to celebrate the Spring (Vernal) Equinox on Saturday 21st March.
Expect a short period of access, from  first light (approximately 05:45am) until 08:30am.

• Access to Stonehenge will cease at 0830h and the cooperation of all of visitors in ensuring the monument is vacated at this Stonehenge Equinoxtime would be most appreciated. Please note that, in previous years, access for the Equinox ceased earlier at 0800h, however English Heritage has permitted an additional half an hour within the monument for our visitors.

• Temporary toilets (Porta-Loos) will be available at the monument once the site is open for public access. This includes a provision for those with disabilities.

•The Cafe and Shop at the new Visitor Centre at Airmans Cross should be opening for visitors from approximately 0800h on the morning of Saturday 21st March. Please note that the toilets at this location will also become available for use at this time. Although the Cafe will be opening only hot and cold drinks will be available for the first hour. Pasties etc will become available after 0900h.
There will be no access to Stonehenge via the A344.

Accessible parking is extremely limited and is booked on a first-come-first-served basis. Please apply to lucy.barker@english-heritage.org.uk. Accessible parking opens at 5am.

English Heritage Website

Solstice Events UK are offering their usual small group tour visiing Stonehenge at sunrise on the Spring Equinox: Book here

Merlin at Stonehenge
The Stonehenge News Blog





The Stones of Stonehenge. A new web site with a page devoted to each stone at Stonehenge.

11 02 2015

Strange as it may seem, there isn’t a useful reference work that shows photographs of every stone at Stonehenge from all (easily) available angles, until now.  The website is a work in progress toward that end. Not all stones currently have pages, but eventually they will have.

Stone Numbering System

The numbering system for the stones is that devised by W.M. Flinders Petrie in the late 19th century and which is still in use

Heel Stone

The HeelStone (or HeleStone or HealStone) is a natural stone that has not been worked or tooled.

by researchers and archaeologists to this day.

Petrie carried out one of the first highly (and dependably) accurate surveys of Stonehenge and decided that all previous systems of numbering the stones were inadequate in one way or another.
He resolved to number the stones in ascending order clockwise from the main axis of the monument and beginning with the sarsen immediately to the east of the axis in the outer circle as seen from the centre. This is Stone 1. All the actual and supposed positions of sarsen stones are numbered, whether or not there is a stone (or fragment of stone) at or near the position.
The horizontal lintels of the outer sarsen circle are numbered by adding 100 to the number for the higher of the two uprights that support each one. So the lintel supported by Stones 4 and 5 is numbered 105, and that supported by Stones 21 and 22 is numbered 122.
There is a single exception to this rule for the lintel spanning Stones 30 and 1 across the main entrance into the monument which is numbered 101 rather than 130. This is because the number 130 is already in use for the neighbouring lintel that is supported by Stones 29 and 30.
The bluestones of the circle within the sarsen circle are similarly numbered clockwise from the main axis beginning with Stone 31. In the case of the bluestones, Petrie did not assign numbers to the supposed positions of any that are missing.
The sarsens in the horseshoe of massive trilithons are numbered clockwise starting from Stone 51 round to Stone 60. Their respective five lintels (or “imposts” as Petrie called these huge lintels) are numbered 152, 154, 156, 158 and 160.
The bluestones of the innermost horseshoe arrangement are numbered clockwise from Stone 61.
The Altar Stone is Stone 80. The two remaining Station Stones outside the circle are numbered 91 (eastern stone) and 93 (western stone). Station Stones 92 and 94 are missing. The Slaughter Stone is Stone 95 and the Heel Stone is Stone 96.
Fragments of stones which are clearly associated with each other are given alphabetical indices, for example Stones 55a and 55b are the two parts of the broken fallen sarsen upright of the Great Trilithon.

Image credit:

Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge News Blog








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