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”.

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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

Stonehenge guided tours are considered the leading Stonehenge experts and offer a range of guided tours including Full Moon and Eclipse 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.

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.

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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

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