h Phoenix Qi: Stonehenge

Saturday, April 14, 2007


The very word kindles in the imagination visions of robe-clad druids in solemn procession, perhaps singing Celtic chants and bearing flaming torches, gliding slowly toward the center of the megalithic circle to perform seasonal rites honoring the gods and goddesses...

Okay, I'm a romantic dreamer..."the Henge" (as the British call it) lends itself so well to such flights of fancy. However, there is much, much more to Stonehenge than solstices and equinoxes!

First, a bit of archeological history:

Archaeology: (If this doesn't interest you, feel free to jump ahead to Interpretation.) "At first sight this unique and enigmatic site appears smaller than imagined, but the tallest upright stone is 22 ft. high and another 8 ft. below ground.

The outermost element of the site is the Avenue that runs straight down a gentle slope for a distance of 560 yds. into Stonehenge Bottom. The Avenue consists of twin banks about 40 ft. apart with internal ditches and it begins at the entrance to the earthwork enclosure. Here is the Heel Stone, a large upright unworked sarsen (hard sandstone) which lies immediately adjacent to the A344 road. It is worth noting that the nearest source of stones of the size represented by the large sarsens at Stonehenge is on the Marlborough Downs, about 18 mi. to the NE. It can only be assumed that these stones (the heaviest of which weighs about 45 tons) were transported on some type of sledge.

"Moving inwards from the Heel Stone there is an earthwork enclosure that consists of a ditch and an interior bank, the height of which was calculated by Professor Atkinson as being about 6 ft. It is known that there were at least two entrances, the one now visible (facing NE) and one to the south. Lying within the entrance is an unworked and now recumbent sarsen stone, stained a rusty red caused by rainwater acting on iron, and known as the Slaughter Stone. Arranged around the inner edge of the earthwork bank were originally four small uprights: the Station Stones, of which two can still be seen. Immediately adjacent to the bank there is a ring of 56 pits, known as the Aubrey Holes, marked by circular concrete spots. The area between the inner edge of the bank and the outermost stone settings includes at least two further settings of pits: the Y and Z holes.

"On the central area of the site there are the stone settings, the sophisticate arrangements that set Stonehenge apart from any other prehistoric monument in Europe. In their construction two types of stone were used: sarsen and bluestone. The sarsens used in the central settings are much larger. The bluestone is a mixture of rocks found on the Preseli Mountains in SE Wales. The most widely accepted theory regards the arrival of the bluestones on Salisbury Plain as the result of human effort, with the route being partly overland and partly by water.

"In its complete form the outermost stone setting consisted of a circle of 30 upright sarsens, of which 17 still stand, each weighing about 25 tons. The tops of these uprights were linked by a continuous ring of horizontal sarsen lintels, only a small part of which is now still in position. The stones in the sarsen circle are carefully shaped and the horizontal lintels are jointed together not only by means of simple mortice-and-tenon joints, but they are also locked using what is effectively a dovetail joint. The edges are smoothed into a gentle curve which follows the line of the entire circle.

"The bluestone setting, concentric the outer sarsen circle, consisted originally of about 60 stones but many have fallen, dissolved or been crushed. Inside these two circles lies the sarsen horseshoe, consisted originally of five sarsen trilithons (a Greek word that means three stones), each comprising two uprights and a horizontal lintel. Although now fragmentary, the arrangement shows the careful grading of the five trilithons, the tallest of which is 22 ft. high above ground level. Enfolded within this massive horseshoe, lies a smaller horseshoe arrangement of upright bluestones.

"Current archaeological research shows that this site was constructed and modified on various phases, spanning several centuries:

· "Pre-Stonehenge (9th-8th millennium BC): at least 4 mesolithic pits which originally contained big pine posts, in a line about 200m from the present henge site

· "Stonehenge 1 (from 3100 BC): construction of the circular bank, the ditch and the 56 Aubrey Holes which probably originally contained timber posts

· "Stonehenge 2 (from 2550 BC): pottery, animal bones and cremated human remains placed in ditch; cremations deposited in some of the partially filled Aubrey Holes; complex of posts in interior and in entrance causeway

· "Stonehenge 3 (from 2100 BC): sequence of stone-related structures. It's not possible a close dating, but the sequence should has been as follows:
· "Bluestones from Wales erected in q and r holes and then dismantled
· "Sarsen circle and trilithons erected, possibly also a bluestone setting which may have included trilithons, this latter then dismantled
· "Bluestone circle and oval setting
· "Arc of bluestones removed from oval to leave present horseshoe setting
· "Y and Z holes dug, probably for stones which were never erected; during this phase the avenue has also been constructed."

(From "Stonehenge and the Universe" by Nyven at http://ytt.org/stonehenge.htm (This site no longer exists - April 14, 2007))

Interpretation: "Already in the 18th century the British antiquarian William Stukeley had noticed that the horseshoe of great trilithons and the horseshoe of 19 bluestones at Stonehenge opened up in the direction of the midsummer sunrise. It was quickly surmised that the monument must have been deliberately oriented and planned so that on midsummer's morning the sun rose directly over the Heel Stone and the first rays shone into the centre of the monument between the open arms of the horseshoe arrangement.

"This discovery has had tremendous impact on how Stonehenge has been interpreted. For Stukeley in the 18th century and Sir Norman Lockyer in the first years of the 20th century, this alignment implied a ritualistic connection with sun worship and it was generally concluded that Stonehenge was constructed as a temple to the sun. More recently, though, the astronomer Gerald Hawkins has argued that Stonehenge is not merely aligned with solar and lunar astronomical events, but can be used to predict other events such as eclipses. In other words, Stonehenge was more than a temple, it was an astronomical calculator."

However, and this is the fascinating part: "Contrary to expectations, the great stone circles and horseshoe arrangements for which Stonehenge is famous are later additions to the monument (mostly Stonehenge III) and are not essential to the lunar and solar calculations.

"Inside the bank were dug 56 holes -- discovered by John Aubrey, and known as the Aubrey Holes -- placed at precisely regular intervals around a concentric circle of about 285 feet in diameter. Archaeological investigations have shown that these holes were not dug to hold upright stones or wooden posts. Besides the Aubrey Holes, of crucial importance are the four Station Stones marked at positions 91, 92, 93, and 94, to form a rectangle that stands in a precise relationship with the centre of the monument and with the Heel Stone. Only two of the Station Stones survive, and one of those may not be original.

"For the archaeoastronomists, the Aubrey Holes served as fixed reference points along a circle, and their number was essential to astronomical calculations. The cycle of the moon, for example, which takes 27.3 days, can be tracked by moving a marker by two holes each day to complete a circuit in 28 days.

"A much longer calculation is to move the marker by three holes per year to complete a full circuit in 18.67 years. In this way, it is argued, it would be possible to keep track of the nodes, points where the paths of the sun and the moon apparently intersect to produce an eclipse. Because the moon slews around in its path, the two nodes move along the path of the sun, a complete circuit of which takes 18.61 years. By means of the markers in the Aubrey Holes and keeping track of the directions of the sun and the moon, the astronomer at Stonehenge could calculate nodal points ahead of time and thus predict both lunar and solar eclipses." By Chris Whitcombe on his Earth Mysteries website, "Archeoastronomy at Stonehenge" page.

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