Was Orion the Heavenly Overlord of Stonehenge?
In the 1960s, a portion of a ditch excavated into chalk bedrock west of the henge at Stonehenge was discovered during construction for the pedestrian underpass that provided access to Stonehenge until a year ago. By 2014, geophysical testing confirmed that the ditch stretches over 900 meters (2952.7 ft.) from southwest of the Stonehenge henge to a point near the south ditch line of the Greater Cursus, northwest of Stonehenge. The ditch is generally oriented SW-NE and nearly straight for much of its length, before it curves counter clockwise toward the northwest as it approaches the ditch of the cursus. It has a V-shaped cross section about 1.2 m (3.9 ft.) wide and 1.3 m (4.3 ft.) deep.
Location of the ditch extending nearby and northwest of Stonehenge. View is toward the northwest. The Greater Cursus is located in front of the line of trees. (Photo credit: cbc.ca)
Discovery of the location and size of the ditch was a surprise in itself, but what became more curious was the finding of large diameter post holes along the bottom of the ditch for its entire length. The post holes ranging from about 0.25 to 0.4 meters (0.8 – 1.3 ft.) in depth, such that the depths of the post holes are as much as 1.7 meters (5.6 ft.) below the ground surface. The width and depth of the post holes has led archaeologists to conclude the posts must have attained a height of about 6 to 7 meters, or roughly 20 feet.
Archaeologists have found similar structures elsewhere, concluding they are remnants of palisades each consisting of tall wooden posts set to form an alignment, the purpose of which often remains unknown.
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There is one other fact that remains curious about the ditch adjoining Stonehenge. Its SW-NE alignment terminates in Stonehenge Bottom about 2 m (6.6 ft.) from the west ditch of the Stonehenge Avenue before making its left-hand turn toward the cursus. Thus, there appears to be an intentional geographical arrangement between the Palisade, Avenue, Greater Cursus, and Stonehenge itself.
Plan views of the Stonehenge Sacred Landscape. Stonehenge Palisade shown in red. Stonehenge shown as circular structure south the palisade. The Avenue extends between Stonehenge and the river Avon. a) North toward top of the page. b) North toward the left. (Illustration by author)
Archaeologists consider alignments of large post holes along ditch-ways to be remnants of palisades - fences or walls constructed of timber posts often but not always used as a defensive structure. Like stone tools, bone pins and clay jars, palisades are artifacts of ancient cultures except in this particular case we have a massive artifact nearly a kilometer (0.6 mile) in length and with most of its original composition weathered away. It is an artifact of a prehistoric culture, and an enigma.
Palisades were built by many cultures throughout time and around the world. The conclusion that the Stonehenge Palisade was a massive fence 6 meters (20 ft.) tall was the result of estimating its height by the size of the postholes along its length. The buried portion of a fence post is typically about 25 to 30 percent of the total length of the post. With a post hole extending 1.7 meters (5.6 ft.) below ground surface, the post may well have stood about 5.5 - 6.7 meters (18 - 22 ft.) above ground.
Example of a palisade constructed as a defensive structure. (Photo Credit: http://www.uk-archaeology.tv/)
Protection or Something Else?
Given the sacred nature of the Neolithic and Bronze Age Stonehenge landscape, archaeologists conclude the reason for constructing such a massive fence alongside Stonehenge must have been related to whatever ritual activities were being performed inside the henge. The fence must have been built to prevent direct physical and visual access to Stonehenge from the west.
That is a strange conclusion to make given the architecture of Stonehenge is well known to be related directly to the four cardinal directions (including due west and due North), as well as the northwestern direction of sunset on the evening of summer solstice. The 6.1 meter (20 ft.) high wall proposed for the palisade would have prevented views toward two of the four cardinal directions and one of the most important solar events of the year. People northwest of Stonehenge might have been prevented from looking into Stonehenge, but those inside the henge would have been unable to experience events held sacred toward the north, northwest, and west. Why would such a structure have been built and re-built over the course of hundreds of years, beginning shortly after construction of megalithic Stonehenge ca. 2500 BC?