Solar Astronomy at Stonehenge

4 11 2016

Most people are aware that Stonehenge is somehow aligned to the annual movements of the Sun.

Each year thousands of pilgrims, druids and party-goers gather in celebration, hoping to Stonehenge Avenue.jpgwitness the most famous of these – the Summer Solstice Sunrise on June 21st.

At this time of year, as seen from the centre of the monument, the Sun rises in the same direction as the centre-line of the Avenue – the ancient processional approach to Stonehenge – towards the northeast.

The Stonehenge Avenue alignment was first pointed out by William Stukeley in 1740.

Even though almost everyone believes the Heel Stone was put up by the builders to exactly mark the summer solstice sunrise position, this can’t be true because it stands off to the right hand side of the alignment.

Today the Sun seems to rise out of the top of the Heel Stone due to the modern trees that are on the horizon.

heel-stone-sunrise

Walking up the Avenue they would have seen the Sun setting exactly into the middle of the stones between the uprights of the tallest trilithon in the southwest. We can still experience this today, even though only one upright of that trilithon – Stone 56, the tallest stone on the site – remains in place.

There’s a secondary alignment too – from Winter Solstice Sunrise to Summer Solstice Sunset.

This was first described by Prof. Gordon Freeman in 1997 and it makes use of a “notch” in the edge of Stone 58 of the western trilithon to give a clear sightline across the stone circle.

Viewed through this notch, Winter Solstice Sunrise is seen over Coneybury Hill to the southeast…

winter-solstice-sunrise

If they weren’t there, sunrise would be almost a Sun’s width to the left – and 4,500 years ago the Sun would have risen a whole degree further over to the left.

Even though the Heel Stone wasn’t intended as the solstice sunrise marker, the sight is still magnificent – when the weather cooperates.

Along the same alignment, but exactly in the opposite direction, lies the Winter Solstice Sunset point.

… and Summer Solstice Sunset is seen over Fargo Wood to the northwest.

What’s remarkable about these alignments through the circle is that they intersect over the centre of the Altar Stone (shown as Stone 80 in the plan below). The Altar Stone is not perpendicular to the main alignment but is offset so that it lies exactly along the secondary one.

image description

The intersection angle of 80° between summer and winter solstice sunrises at this latitude is echoed in the large gold lozenge discovered in 1808 when the Bronze Age “shamanic” burial from Bush Barrow, just south of Stonehenge, was excavated.

The intersection angle of 80° between summer and winter solstice sunrises at this latitude is echoed in the large gold lozenge discovered in 1808 when the Bronze Age “shamanic” burial from Bush Barrow, just south of Stonehenge, was excavated.bush-barrow-lozenge
Some see this as coincidence. Others believe the lozenge shows that the knowledge of this important astronomical angle was passed down the generations for at least 600 years.

The lozenge and the other astonishing Bush Barrow finds are on display at Wiltshire Museum in Devizes.

There are Stonehenge lunar alignments too, but that will be the subject of a different article.

Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

The Stonehenge News Blog
Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest Stonehenge news and discoveries





Barrows or Burial Mounds Near Stonehenge.

5 10 2016

The area within a 2 mile radius around Stonehenge contains more than 300 Bronze Age burial mounds or “barrows”. Often these are clustered into what are termed “cemeteries” – groups of barrows that often occur along the ridgelines within sight of the stone circle. Almost all have been opened by investigators and treasure hunters prior to the 20th century and have had their grave goods removed.

The nearest ones to Stonehenge are within easy walking distance – 10 to 20 minutes away – and the views across the landscape are well worth the journey. Please don’t climb the barrows, tempting though it is, as they are easily eroded.

Less than a mile to the east lie the King Barrows under the beech trees on the horizon to the north of the A303 main road. These are amongst the very few barrows that have not been opened by antiquaries in the 18th or 19th centuries and are some of the largest and oldest.

Northwest of Stonehenge are the Cursus Barrows, a group that is easily accessible – being less than a quarter of a mile from the entrance to the monument field. These were all excavated by William Cunnington and Richard Colt Hoare in the early 19th century.

The double bell barrow in this group had previously been opened by Lord Pembroke in 1722 and it contained some very fine grave goods including a dagger; amber, shale and faience beads as well as a gold mounted amber disc which all accompanied the cremated remains of a young teenage girl.

Within the monument field itself, 100m east of the stone circle, sits a wonderful example tweezersof a bell barrow. It was excavated twice by Cunnington and on his second attempt he discovered a cremation burial within an urn along with a beautiful set of bone tweezers which are now in Wiltshire Museum in Devizes.

Visible from Stonehenge on the ridge south of the main A303 road are the Normanton Down Barrows, a huge linear cemetery of burial mounds. This group is on private farmland and so cannot be visited.

stonehenge-cupWithin the group is a bell barrow catalogued as Wilsford G8 that contained some extraordinary items of gold and amber jewellery along with a ceramic incense vessel that is known as the “Stonehenge Cup” because of a perceived resemblance to the monument.

At the time of writing (October 2016), the items from Wilsford G8 are on display in the
Stonehenge Visitor Centre Exhibition, on loan from Wiltshire Museum.

Also in this group is the famous Bush Barrow – so called because it has a large bush growing out of the top of it.

The excavation of this barrow in 1808, again by Cunnington and Colt Hoare, found the body bush-barrow-lozengeof an adult male laid north-south accompanied by one of the most spectacular grave assemblages ever found in Britain, including two lozenges of sheet gold, a polished macehead and 5 cylindrical bone mounts, bronze and copper daggers, and thousands of tiny gold pins used to decorate the hilt. All of the Bush Barrow finds are on display in Wiltshire Museum.

There is an interactive map showing all of the barrows which were investigated by Cunnington and Colt Hoare in the Stonehenge landscape at http://web.org.uk/barrowmap/

The Ordnance Survey 1:25000 Explorer Map 130 “Salisbury and Stonehenge” is an excellent reference for exploring the area, showing public footpaths and National Trust open access land.

This weeks article was submitted by guest blogger and local Stonehenge expert Simon Banton

Stonehenge Landscape walking Tours:
National Trust: Walk with an archaeologist: Durrington Revealed
Local Tour Operator: Stonehenge and Salisbury Guided Tours
Foot Trails:  Full Day Stonehenge Guided Walking Tours
Tours from London:  The Stonehenge Experts
Durrington Walls, Wiltshire walk of the week: The Daily Telegraph

The Stonehenge News Blog

 

 





Telling the story of prehistoric Wiltshire.

18 08 2013

The Wiltshire Museum in Devizes is opening new prehistory galleries in the autumn.

The centrepiece of the stunning new displays are the objects buried with the Bush Barrow Chieftain almost 4,000 years ago. He was buried close to Stonehenge with the objects that showed his power and authority– a gold lozenge, a ceremonial mace and a gold-decorated dagger.These are just some of the rich Bronze Age objects that are on display for the first time in new high security showcases. Gold ornaments, amber necklaces, ritual costume, polished stone axes and bronze daggers tell the story of the people who lived at the time when Stonehenge, Avebury and Marden henges were great ceremonial centres.

Bronze Age artefacts on show at the Wiltshire Museum

Bronze Age artefacts on show at the Wiltshire Museum

 

The displays feature models and full-size reconstructions that bring archaeology to life. There is lots for children to do, with trails and quizzes, a chance to build Stonehenge and Bronze Age clothes to try on.

Some of the important Bronze Age gold finds from the museum will be on loan for display at the new Stonehenge visitor centre. This is part of an integrated strategy to encourage visitors to Stonehenge to explore Wiltshire and to visit the museums in Devizes and Salisbury. These new displays have been developed with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage and the North Wessex Downs AONB

More details here: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/content/imported-docs/k-o/megalith-jul2013.pdf

Museum link: http://www.wiltshireheritage.org.uk/

Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge News Blog

 








%d bloggers like this: