Stonehenge, King Arthur and Merlin

8 01 2017

Merlin makes his first appearance in the Stonehenge story in Book 8, Chapter 10, of Geoffrey of Monmouth‘s epic work “Historia Regum Britanniae” (The History of the Kings of Britain, c. 1136AD) when Aurelius Ambrosius – recently annointed King of Britain and the brother of Uther Pendragon – seeks his advice for a lasting memorial to the British princes treacherously slain by the Saxons during a truce.

Merlin says:
“If you are desirous to honour the burying-place of these man with an everlasting monument, KIng Arthurs Merlin at Stonehengesend for the Giant’s Dance, which is in Killaraus, a mountain in Ireland. For there is a structure of stones there, which none of this age could raise without a profound knowledge of the mechanical arts. They are stones of a vast magnitude and wonderful quality; and if they can be placed here, as they are there, round this spot of ground, they will stand for ever.”

When Aurelius laughs at the idea of going such a long way when there are ample stones in Britain, Merlin continues:

“I entreat your majesty to forbear vain laughter; for what I say is without vanity. They are mystical stones, and of a medicinal virtue. The giants of old brought them from the farthest coasts of Africa, and placed them in Ireland, while they inhabited that country. Their design in this was to make baths in them, when they should be taken with any illness. For their method was to wash the stones, and put their sick into the water, which infallibly cured them. With the like success they cured wounds also, adding only the application of some herbs. There is no a stone there which has not some healing virtue.”

And so off to Ireland goes Uther along with Merlin and 15,000 men to fetch the Giant’s Dance.

Robert Wace’s Roman de Brut from about 1155AD retells this story for a Norman French audience. A 14th Century manuscript version of the Brut accompanies the tale with an illustration of Merlin carrying out the work of re-erecting the monument, employing a giant to help him (a detail that Wace added that wasn’t in Geoffrey’s original text).

Aurelius subsequently dies – poisoned by a Saxon at Winchester – and is buried near the Giant’s Dance, reputedly in the largest barrow on Coneybury Hill (Amesbury G23 “King Barrow”) according to local tradition written down by Stukeley in the 18th Century.

Uther succeeds Aurelius and then Uther’s son Arthur receives the crown after Uther also succumbs to Saxon poison whereupon “the bishops and clergy of the kingdom assembled, and carried his body to the convent of Ambrius, where they buried it with regal solemnity, close by Aurelius Ambrosius, within the Giant’s Dance.”

Arthur’s famous exploits are well documented in the romances, but ultimately Geoffrey reports him mortally wounded and departed to the Isle of Avalon, to be replaced by Constantine, son of Cador of Cornwall.

Constantine was eventually killed by Conan and “buried close by Uther Pendragon within the structure of stones, which was set up with wonderful art not far from Salisbury, and called in the English tongue Stanheng”.

There is only one documented burial of a body actually within the centre of the stone circle of Stonehenge itself, known as WA2724, which was discovered by Col. William Hawley in 1926. Whether this is either Uther or Constantine (or neither) is unknowable and the dating is difficult since the burial was badly disturbed and found with pottery from medieval to Bronze Age in date plus a Roman coin and some Victorian and Georgian artifacts as well.

The next nearest inhumation is from fractionally outside the circle on the east side, known as WA1676 and discovered by Hawley in 1923. This person was decapitated from behind, probably with a sword, and then unceremoniously stuffed into a grave not big enough for the body. It does date from Anglo-Saxon times, around 650AD. Interestingly, the very first radiocarbon date for this burial was commissioned by a Welsh dentist called Wystan Peach in 1975 – he was convinced the bones were those of King Arthur himself and published a booklet describing his theory in 1961.

More recently two novels have sought to place Arthur and Merlin back in the Bronze Age at the time of the construction of Stonehenge rather than in the post-Roman Dark Ages – “Stone Lord” and “Moon Lord”, by J.P. Reedman. Drawing on the latest archaeological discoveries from the Stonehenge landscape these novels are a fascinating addition to the mythology of these legendary characters that are so iconic to the British sense of self.

stonelord moonlord

Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

MoonLord: The Fall of King Arthur – The Ruin of Stonehenge.  Buy on Amazon
StoneLord: The Legend Of King Arthur, The Era Of Stonehenge. Buy on Amazon
Visit Janet Reedmans Blog for more information

Recent Blog: Druid Leader King Arthur Uther Pendragon, Head of the Loyal Arthurian Warband.

English Heritage: The King Arthur Story and links to Arthurian locations
BBC HistoryKing Arthur, ‘Once and Future King’

Stonehenge Guided Tours offer King Arthur Tours including Stonehenge and associated sites in the South West of England.

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The lost sounds of Stonehenge. Hidden sounds of prehistoric site revealed on new app

6 01 2017

There are many questions surrounding the ancient stone circle of Stonehenge but might sound help in the search for answers?

Virtual reality allows new ways to examine Stonehenge's history

Virtual reality allows new ways to examine Stonehenge’s history

Thomas Hardy said it had a strange “musical hum”. Tess of the d’Urvbervilles ends at Stonehenge and features the “sound”. Modern-day druids also say they experience something special when they gather at Stonehenge and play instruments within the stone circle.


 

However, Stonehenge is a ruin. Whatever sound it originally had 3,000 years ago has been lost but now, using technology created for video games and architects, Dr Rupert Till of the University of Huddersfield has – with the help of some ancient instruments – created a virtual sound tour of Stonehenge as it would have sounded with all the stones in place.

Arriving at 07:00 on a decidedly chilly January morning, I was sceptical. Dr Till had arrived with a horn, a drum and some sticks to try to show me that, even in its partially deconstructed state, there was still a distinctive echo.

Perhaps it’s the mystique of the stones but it’s easy to hear something. However, sound is always going to bounce off huge standing stones: how can we say that was in any way meaningful for people 3,000 years ago?

Dr Till says there’s a great deal of evidence that ancient people were intrigued and drawn to places that had a distinctive sound and Stonehenge had a “strange acoustic”. Even today, the wind or drumming can, he says, help generate a 47hz bass note.

He first got a taste of what the circle might do to sound when he visited a concrete replica of the original intact Stonehenge in Maryhill in the US state of Washington.

He has now developed an app which will help people blot out the sounds – including those made by tourists, and cars on the nearby A303 – and go back to the soundscape of 3,000 years ago.

He’s used instruments that were used at the time, such as bone flutes and animal horns, to give people a sense of what music would have sounded like within the reverberation of the intact stone circle and says the site has some of the characteristics you might expect of a rock concert venue.

Dr Till explains that there’s there’s strong evidence that people several thousand years ago had an interest in acoustic environments. He’s worked on caves in Spain in which instruments have been found deep underground.

The echoes of the tunnels and cave systems may have had a special meaning for people. There are also, what appears to be, human markings on certain “musical” stalactites. Strike the stalactites in the right way and they give off a deep resonant note and can be played like a huge vertical xylophone.

Stonehenge is a magnet for strange theories but this reflects a wider movement within archaeology to try to recreate the past with the rapidly growing technology of virtual reality (VR). Dr Aaron Watson is a research archaeologist and specialises in visualising the past.

VR, he says, opens up a new way of researching history.

“The material record can’t give us all the answers,” he explains.

“The moment we start creating a virtual reality world it begins to ask questions, especially about people. What were they wearing, what were their postures, were they highly coloured, tattooed? As soon as we create the immersive experience it demands those answers.

“It gives a new sensory experience to looking at the past that might take us beyond what we describe in books.”

By David Sillito BBC NEWS

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Stonehenge – Eclipse Predictor?

4 01 2017

Astronomer Prof. Gerald Hawkins wrote two articles for “Nature” in 1963 and 1964 in which he pointed out several new Stonehenge alignments to the Sun and Moon and proposed that the 56 Aubrey Holes could be used to predict eclipses. His subsequent popular book “Stonehenge Decoded” gave the world the idea that the monument was a Neolithic computer.

stonehenge-decoded-and-gh

Archaeologists were horrified at the thought and the leading authority on Stonehenge at the time, one Richard Atkinson, wrote a rebuttal paper in 1966 called “Moonshine on Stonehenge” which heavily criticised Hawkins conclusions. Atkinson considered the builders of Stonehenge to be “howling barbarians” – a statement he later came to regret.

on-stonehenge-and-fhProf. Fred Hoyle followed up Hawkins’ work on the eclipse predictor idea and came up with a relatively simple recipe for moving markers around the 56 Aubrey Holes to keep track of the Sun, Moon and the two points in the sky where their paths cross (the “nodes”). He published this work in two journal articles in 1966 and then in his 1977 popular book “On Stonehenge”.

 

So how does this eclipse predictor theory work and is it possible that the Aubrey Holes were in fact used like this? We’re going to have to get slightly technical, but it’s not too hard to follow.

Hoyle said that you need a marker for the Sun, one for the Moon and two more for the “nodes”, and that these markers are moved around the 56 holes of the Aubrey Hole circle in a particular way.

The Moon goes around the Earth once in about 27.3 days (the “sidereal month”) so if you move your Moon marker two Aubrey Holes per day it’ll go once round the circle in 28 days.

The Sun goes around the entire sky once in about 365.25 days (the “tropical year”), so if you move your Sun marker two holes every 13 days it’ll go once round the circle in 364 days.

The points where the paths of the Sun and Moon appear to cross (the “nodes”) also gradually move around the sky, taking 18.61 years to make one revolution. This period is called “the regression of the lunar nodes” and occurs because the Moon’s orbital ellipse actually rotates slowly around the Earth.

The Moon’s orbit is also tilted by about 5° to the path of the Sun in the sky, which is why we don’t get eclipses every New and Full Moon – we only get eclipses when both the Sun and Moon are at or very near the “nodes”.

Print

The node markers are always kept opposite each other – there’s the “ascending node” and the “descending node” – one for each of the two crossing points on opposite sides of the sky.

To keep track of the nodes, you move their markers 3 holes each year – in the other direction to the movement of the Sun and Moon markers. This means the node markers go backwards round the circle once in 18.66 years.

To summarise:

Arbitrary Position and Explanation.png

Now, 28 isn’t 27.3, 364 isn’t 365.25 and 18.66 isn’t 18.61 but the inaccuracies can be corrected.

Every month you can fix the Moon marker by making sure it’s in the Aubrey Hole directly opposite the Sun at Full Moon.

Twice a year, at the solstices, you can make sure that the Sun marker is in the Aubrey Hole closest to Stonehenge’s main axis – either the Aubrey Hole towards the Heel Stone at summer solstice or the one directly opposite it across the circle at winter solstice. The error between 18.66 and 18.61 is actually small enough not to matter.

Suppose you see a lunar eclipse one night, this allows you to set up the markers in the first place. The Sun and Moon markers are placed directly opposite each other (because lunar eclipses are only possible at Full Moon) and the node markers are placed one each in the same holes as the Sun and Moon markers.

Now you follow the recipe for moving the markers, day by day.

If you ever end up with the Sun and Moon markers in the same hole together, and they’re in the same hole as (or in the hole next to) a node marker then this predicts a solar eclipse. Sun and Moon markers in the same hole means New Moon, and solar eclipses are only possible then.

The following animation shows how this works, starting with the solar eclipse of March 20th 2015 and predicting the subsequent lunar eclipse of 4th April 2015.

ah-animation

If all this seems very unlikely and complicated to manage, then you may be right. Hawkins’ and Hoyle’s theories simply show how a 56 hole machine with four markers could be used to track the things that allow you to know when to expect an eclipse to occur.

One of Atkinson’s objections was that if 56 was a useful number for eclipse prediction in the ancient world then it’d be found all over the place – not just at Stonehenge. What’s more, up until the 1960s the number 56 wasn’t associated with eclipse cycles by astronomers.

Curiously, it was discovered later that perhaps the ancients did link 56 with eclipses. There is a passage in Plutarch’s “Of Isis and Osiris”, dating to the 2nd Century AD, which says:

“The Pythagoreans also clearly believe Typhon to be a daemonic power… the 56-sided polygon is said to belong to Typhon, as Eudoxus [Greek astronomer c.370 BC] has reported…

There are some who give the name Typhon to the shadow of the earth, into which they believe the moon falls and so suffers eclipse…”

The argument continues even 50 years on – the builders of Stonehenge clearly weren’t “howling barbarians” and the builders of that monument and others definitely paid attention to the sky and how things moved around it.

Humans have been curious for as long as we’ve been humans and the earliest artifact that has a record of the phases of the Moon on it is a carved bone from the central European Aurignacian culture which is about 32,000 years old (https://sservi.nasa.gov/articles/oldest-lunar-calendars/)

Perhaps we’re still underestimating our ancestors’ abilities, despite the evidence they’ve left behind.

Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

May 26th 2017: Amesbury History Centre is proud to bring to you a talk by Archaeoastronomer Simon Banton on the Astronomy of Stonehenge, on the 26th May 2017, 8pm.  Click here to view this event

If you want to here more about Stonehenge and the astronomical calendar you could join a Stonehenge walking tour with a local Archaeoastronomer who offers amongst guided walks, talks and even full moon tours.
Stonehenge guided tours are considered the leading Stonehenge experts and offer a range of guided tours, many taking you into the inner circle at sunrise or sunset. Private Stonehenge tours with a Stonehenge expert and astronomer can easily be arranged.

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2017 Stonehenge Opening Hours, Entry Prices and Tickets.

2 01 2017

Stonehenge Opening Times and Entrance Prices.
English Heritage advise to expect a visit to last around two hours. Please see the table below for opening times for 2017/18, with some seasonal variability, and entrance prices for adults, children, families, seniors and groups.

visitor-centre2

The Stonehenge Exhibition and Visitor Centre

There is 10% discount for groups of 11 or more visitors paying together plus a free place for every additional 20 paying passengers. Free entry for coach driver and tour leader.

If you come by car you will park in the car park outside the visitor centre. It is free for people purchasing tickets to enter Stonehenge, there is a charge if you are not. Tour buses have their own separate coach park.

All Members of English Heritage or National Trust must show a valid membership card on arrival to be granted free parking and site access.

To enter the Stonehenge Exhibition at the Visitor Centre you need a full ticket to Stonehenge, anyone can access the café, gift shop and toilets though, for free.

Very Important!  Book Your Stonehenge Tickets in Advance 
To be assured of entering Stonehenge the best way is to reserve timed tickets in advance on the English Heritage web site or if you need more flexibility and without the time constraint you can purchase discount advance Stonehenge tickets here

Tickets to Stonehenge are booked by half hour time slot, the website showing you how many tickets are still available for your chosen date and time.

Note: you cannot reserve tickets on-line on the day of your visit, you must reserve before midnight latest on the day before. Only a very small number of tickets are held back each day for walk-up visitors.

Note: the last admission time is two hours before closing time of Stonehenge. Closing times are variable according to month of the year (see below)

Stonehenge Admission & Opening From 1st January 2017 – October 2017

Admission

Opening Times

Adult

£15.50

16 Mar – 31 May

09.30 – 19:00

Child (5-15)

£9.30

1 Jun – 31 Aug

09.00 – 20:00

Students/Seniors *

£13.90

1 Sep – 15 Oct

09.30 – 19:00

Family Ticket †

£40.30

16 Oct – 15 Mar

09.30 – 17:00

Last entry 2 hours before closing
Members of the National Trust & English Heritage enter free
Prices are valid until 31st March 2017* 16-18 yr olds + seniors 60+† 2 Adults and 3 Children

~ Closed 24th to 26th December

2017 STONEHENGE OPENING TIMES

1st JANUARY 2017– 31st MARCH 2017

Monday 9:30 – 17:00
Tuesday 9:30 – 17:00
Wednesday 9:30 – 17:00
Thursday 9:30 – 17:00
Friday 9:30 – 17:00
Saturday 9:30 – 17:00
Sunday 9:30 – 17:00

1st APRIL 2017 – 31st MAY 2017

Monday 9:30 – 19:00
Tuesday 9:30 – 19:00
Wednesday 9:30 – 19:00
Thursday 9:30 – 19:00
Friday 9:30 – 19:00
Saturday 9:30 – 19:00
Sunday 9:30 – 19:00

1st JUNE 2017 – 31st AUGUST 2017

Monday 9:00 – 20:00
Tuesday 9:00 – 20:00
Wednesday 9:00 – 20:00
Thursday 9:00 – 20:00
Friday 9:00 – 20:00
Saturday 9:00 – 20:00
Sunday 9:00 – 20:00

1st OCTOBER 2017 – 15th OCTOBER 2017

Monday 9:30 – 19:00
Tuesday 9:30 – 19:00
Wednesday 9:30 – 19:00
Thursday 9:30 – 19:00
Friday 9:30 – 19:00
Saturday 9:30 – 19:00
Sunday 9:30 – 19:00

16th OCTOBER 2017 ONWARDS
Opening times will be available nearer the time

For more information please visit the official English Heritage website

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Thousands gathered at Stonehenge to celebrate the winter solstice

22 12 2016

Thousands of people gathered at Stonehenge to celebrate the winter solstice.

solstice2016

Stonehenge was built over 5,000 thousands years ago and remains a place of spiritual significance for many. Credit: PA

Druids and pagans were among the crowd that watched the sun come up at 8.13am on the shortest day of the year.

People, some dressed in traditional pagan clothing, danced, played musical instruments and kissed the ancient stones.

One South African woman said she had made the trip to the UK “especially for the solstice”.

She said: “I am a Pagan, a witch and this is about the best place to be.”

Kate Davies from English Heritage, who manage the prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, said: “We were delighted to welcome approximately 5,000 people to Stonehenge to celebrate winter solstice this morning.

It was a very enjoyable and peaceful celebration and the ancient stone circle was filled with the sound of drumming and chanting.”

There will be just seven hours, 49 minutes and 41 seconds of daylight on 21 December, almost nine hours less than the year’s longest day in June.

Stonehenge was built over 5,000 thousands years ago and remains a place of spiritual significance for many people.

Crowds gather at the UNESCO World Heritage Site on the shortest and longest days of the year as the stones are aligned to the sunset of the winter solstice and the opposing sunrise of the summer solstice.

Some experts believe the winter solstice was more important to our ancient ancestors than the summer solstice as the longest night marked a turning of the year as the days begin to grow longer.

Article source: ITV NEWS

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A Happy Winter Solstice to you all. Time to celebrate! It’s the shortest day of the year!

20 12 2016

Stonehenge News and Information

happy-winter-solsticeThe Pagan celebration of Winter Solstice (also known as Yule) is one of the oldest winter celebrations in the world.

The Winter Solstice falls on the shortest day of the year (21st December) and was celebrated in Britain long before the arrival of Christianity. The Druids (Celtic priests) would cut the mistletoe that grew on the oak tree and give it as a blessing. Oaks were seen as sacred and the winter fruit of the mistletoe was a symbol of life in the dark winter months.

It was also the Druids who began the tradition of the yule log. The Celts thought that the sun stood still for twelve days in the middle of winter and during this time a log was lit to conquer the darkness, banish evil spirits and bring luck for the coming year.

Many of these customs are still followed today. They have been incorporated into…

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A Happy Winter Solstice to you all. Time to celebrate! It’s the shortest day of the year!

20 12 2016

happy-winter-solstice

The Pagan celebration of Winter Solstice (also known as Yule) is one of the oldest winter celebrations in the world.

The Winter Solstice falls on the shortest day of the year (21st December) and was celebrated in Britain long before the arrival of Christianity. The Druids (Celtic priests) would cut the mistletoe that grew on the oak tree and give it as a blessing. Oaks were seen as sacred and the winter fruit of the mistletoe was a symbol of life in the dark winter months.

It was also the Druids who began the tradition of the yule log. The Celts thought that the sun stood still for twelve days in the middle of winter and during this time a log was lit to conquer the darkness, banish evil spirits and bring luck for the coming year.

Many of these customs are still followed today. They have been incorporated into the Christian and secular celebrations of Christmas.

Stonehenge is an ancient pre-historic site. It has been a place of worship and celebration at the time of the Winter Solstice since time immemorial. Respect the Stones and each other!

Time to celebrate! It’s the shortest day of the year!

happy-solstoce-3

Image courtesy of Astrocal Calendars 

SOLSTICE LINKS:
Stonehenge Winter Solstice Cards: Astrocal and Solstice Calendars
Stonehenge Winter Solstice Open Access Arrangements
Please visit the official English Heritage website for full details and respect the terms of entry.

Please respect the Stones and each other! 

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