Ancient Skies: Stonehenge and the Moon.

29 11 2020

Whereas we can be sure that Stonehenge related directly to the Sun, its possible associations with the Moon remain much debated. Claims made in the 1960s that the monument incorporated large numbers of intentional alignments upon significant solar and lunar rising and setting positions are undermined by the archaeological evidence and are also statistically unsupportable.

The full Harvest Moon setting over Stonehenge. Photo credit to Stonehenge Dronescapes

Nonetheless, some tantalizing strands of evidence remain. Chief among these is the orientation of the Station Stone rectangle. While its shorter axis simply follows the main solstitial orientation of the sarsen monument, its longer axis is oriented southeastwards close to the most southerly possible rising position of the Moon (most southerly moonrise). It has been argued that the latitude of Stonehenge was carefully chosen so that these two directions were nearly perpendicular, but the perfect location would have been further south, in the English Channel.

In any case, the precise location of Stonehenge was actually fixed by the pre-existing earth and timber monument upon whose remains the stones were constructed. The sightlines along the sides of the Station Stone rectangle were not (quite) blocked out by the sarsen monument. This suggests that they were of enduring significance.

The lunar phase cycle (“synodic month”) averaging 29.5 days is, for many indigenous peoples, the best-known cycle in the sky. The position of moonrise (moonset) moves up and down the eastern (western) horizon during a slightly shorter period – the “tropical month” of 27.3 days. Its phase is related to the season: the most southerly Moon is full around the summer solstice and new around the winter solstice. For the most northerly Moon the opposite is true.

Before the stones arrived, there was no evident solstitial orientation at Stonehenge. Yet after the earthen enclosure built several centuries earlier had fallen into disuse, and the timber posts standing in the Aubrey Holes had rotted away, a few people came here to make offerings of animals, tools and even human cremations. These were placed in the ditch, in the (now empty) Aubrey Holes, and were not placed randomly. There are concentrations in the directions of most northerly and most southerly moonrise, suggesting that Stonehenge and the Moon the motions of the Moon were a concern even at this early stage. (See the discussion on major and minor lunar standstills in the panel “Ancient Skies”.)

Fred Hoyle famously endorsed the idea that the 56 Aubrey Holes could have been used to predict eclipses by moving marker posts around according to certain rules. This idea does not stand up to scrutiny. For one thing, this could only predict eclipse danger periods – very different from predicting actual eclipses, for which the device would have been unreliable. For another, there exist several other Neolithic sites containing pit circles and they have widely ranging numbers of holes. Finally, the Aubrey Holes most likely held a circle of timber posts, predating the later constructions in stone, that mimicked older woodworking techniques.
SOURCE: Stonehenge and Ancient Astronomy. Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site

Stonehenge sky visible around the world.
Enjoy a personal Stonehenge sky all year round, thanks to a new live feed of the sky above the ancient monument. The live feed gives us a chance to see the sky above Stonehenge from within the monument, whenever you like. On the website, we can gaze at the sky above the stone circle and track the path of other planets in our solar system. You can visit the website at any time of the day or night to see what it’s like inside the stone circle, with 360 degree views.
Experience it for yourself at www.stonehengeskyscape.co.uk

Relevant Stonehenge Links:
Stonehenge and other stone monuments were probably used for special moonlit ceremonies. STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
Stonehenge and Ancient Astronomy. STONEHENGE AND AVEBURY WORLD HERITAGE SITES
Stonehenge Full Moon Guided Walking Tours. Explore the landscape with a local historian and astronomer. STONEHENGE GUIDED TOURS
Stonehenge Dronescapes. Amazing photos of Stonehenge. STONEHENGE DRONESCAPES
Celestial Stonehenge. The Moon, Planets and Stars. ENGLISH HERITAGE
Moving on from Stonehenge: Researchers make the case for archaeoastronomy. STONEHENGE NEWS BLOG
Stonehenge: The ancient SUPERCOMPUTER used to track movement of the universe. THE DAILY EXPRESS
Visit Stonehenge with an expert tour guide. STONEHENGE TOURS
Full Moon Rise at Stonehenge. SILENT EARTH
U.K Moon Phase Calendar. MOONPHASE

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