Sunday, April 6, 2008

Stanhengues...early astronomy?...and new digs

"Stanhengues": French term coined by 12th century chronicler Wace meaning "hanging stones"--that’s the earliest recorded reference to the megalith stone erections in Salisbury Plain Wiltshire, England. The mid 17th Century brought the first archeological investigations by John Aubrey who discovered the 56 holes now known as "Aubrey holes". And, debate was followed regarding the main path. William Stuckley [1740] maintained that it faced East towards the rising sun in mid-summer--towards the "heal stone". Norman Lockyer [1901] disagreed. Sometimes this gets a bit confusing but it is agreed that there were three phases of construction based on carbon-14 dating of organic matter. Phase one [2700 BC (some sources indicate a time period of 2950-2900 BC)] consisted of a circular bank, ditch, and counterscarp bank. Inside the earth bank are the 56 Aubrey holes that held the wooden posts. All of that about 330 feet in diameter. Phase two [2900-2400 BC] is marked by the filling in of the "Aubrey holes" and construction of timber items near the north eastern entrance and the monument’s center. All was quiet for many years until phase three. Phase three [2550-1600 BC] consisted in the installation of the massive "Bluestones", removal of the "Bluestones", and the development of the "Sarsen Circle" which includes the mantled "Trilithons". Well, that’s a thumbnail sketch of the history of Stonehenge which is also shrouded in myth and religion of King Arthur and the Druids; but, that’s another story. The tie-in to the origin of science in rooted in the astronomical aspects of the monument. This is how I understand it’s functions. You have to understand that the ancients who built this “calendar” relied heavily on keen observation and a lot of trial and error. The principle axis of Stonehenge is arranged to line up with the sunrise of the Summer Solstice in the middle of June. The sunrise becomes visible in one of the arches above the "heel stone". And those "Aubrey holes", when wooden posts are placed in them, will track the position of the moon, the sun, and provide prediction of eclipses for the latitude of Stonehenge is optimum for sun-moon rectangular alignment. In the northern hemisphere there is only one latitude for which, at their extreme declinations, the sun and moon azimuths are separated by 90 degrees and Stonehenge is within a few miles of that latitude--not bad for the ancient science of astronomy. Granted there are numerous problems with Stonehenge and not all scholars agree and point to serious issues, but for a crude instrument it isn't bad and does illustrate a very early attempt to do science despite any religious/mythological connotations.

After 44 years, Stonehenge is being investigated again.

"New Excavation Begins at Stonehenge/Experts hope to determine why it was built"


Timothy James Neale


April 5th, 2008

The first excavation at Stonehenge in over 44 years started this week. Professors Geoff Wainwright and Tim Darvill lead the excavation. They aim to shed light on two important questions about Stonehenge. When was it built and why?

Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in southeast England, near the city of Salisbury. It is a globally famous, UNESCO World Heritage Site.

For both professors this is literally a once in a lifetime opportunity. Said Darvill, of the University of Bournemouth: "It is an incredibly exciting moment and a great privilege to be able to excavate inside Stonehenge."

Experts date the earliest construction on the site to be 5,000 years ago. This consisted of earthen works and timber structures. Two concentric circles of bluestones were erected on the site around 2600 B.C. These were transported from Preseli, 153 miles away in south Wales. Two-hundred years later the bluestones were removed and the iconic standing stones, each weighing around 25 tons, were erected. The bluestones were later re-erected at the site. The main objective of the dig is to date the first erection of the bluestones.

Darvill said, "This excavation is the first opportunity in nearly half a century to bring the power of modern scientific archaeology to bear on a problem that has taxed the minds of travelers, antiquaries, and archaeologists since medieval times -- just why were the bluestones so important and powerful to have warranted our ancestors to make the gargantuan journey to bring them to Salisbury Plain?"

Wainwright, president of the Society of Antiquaries, predicted the excavation would shed light on the society that undertook the construction of Stonehenge. He said, "This dig will help us to set the first Stonehenge in its social and economic framework."

A Place of Healing or Dying?

Stonehenge was constructed by a culture that left no written records. So many aspects of the monument are still debated. Several theories have been put forward as to why such a huge effort was put into the construction of Stonehenge. The most popular theory is that it was an ancient astronomical observatory. However, Wainwright and Darvill have another theory.

They recently pinpointed the exact location in Wales where the bluestones were quarried. In this region bluestones are reputed to have healing powers. The team believes it is this magic healing power that lay behind the transporting and erecting of the bluestones to create a "Neolithic Lourdes." This theory appears to be supported by the growing body of evidence of sickness and injury on human remains excavated around the site.

Wainwright said, "We have our fingertips on the answer to the eternal question of why Stonehenge was built."

Science and Stonehenge by, Barry Cunliffe and Colin Renfrew

ISBN 0-19-726174-4

Stonehenge: Mysteries of the Stones and the Landscape by, David Souden

ISBN 1-85585 291 8

Stonehenge, Neolithic Man and the Cosmos by, John North

ISBN 0 00 255850 5

The Making of Stonehenge by, Rodney Castleden

ISBN 0-415-08513-6

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