Prehistoric Calendar Revealed at Stonehenge

Prehistoric Calendar Revealed at Stonehenge

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Summer solstice is fast approaching, and on the 20th June over 20,000 people are expected to gather at the world-famous Stonehenge to celebrate and watch the sun rise above the Heel Stone and shine on the central altar. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, this is a time when the sun's path stops moving northward in the sky, the days stop growing longer and will soon begin to shorten again.

Over 5000 years old, Stonehenge was built in three phases between 3,000 B.C. and 1,600 B.C. Its full purpose remains unknown yet the mystery that surrounds Stonehenge is so enduring and popular that last year over 1.3 million visitors flocked to this ancient monument. There are even several man-made copies of the world-famous heritage site have been built around the world, including an impressive full-scale replica at the Maryhill Museum in Washington, USA.

Painting of the Maryhill replica of Stonehenge

Painting of the Maryhill replica ( Michael D Martin / Flickr )

Stonehenge famously aligns to the solstices, but for the rest of the year it seems strange that these ancient builders would not be aware of the current day, or for that matter how many days remained to the next solstice event. However, a new theory has been presented that suggests Stonehenge was used for more than just marking the winter and summer solstices, or as a sacred burial site.

Recently, Lloyd Matthews (scale modelling expert based in the UK) and Joan Rankin (a retired historian living in Canada), have made an ambitious attempt to rethink the purpose of Stonehenge. Their conclusion, after three years of extensive and laborious research, is that the entire structure was, in fact, a complex and significant prehistoric calendar that could actually count the individual days in a year. Not only did Stonehenge act as a solar calendar, similar to the western calendar used today, but it also acted as a lunar calendar and was important for a developing agricultural society to successfully plan for the seasons.

Lloyd Matthews spent 6 years meticulously researching and constructing two scale models of Stonehenge for display at The Maryhill Museum of Art. The models show Stonehenge as it stands today and as it would have originally looked when built.

Lloyd Matthew’s models showing Stonehenge as it stands today and as it would have originally looked.

Lloyd Matthew’s models showing Stonehenge today and in the past. Credit: Lloyd Matthews

During its construction, Mr Matthews identified three distinct carvings on three of the large stones known as Trilithons. Curiosity piqued, Mr Matthews approached several experts at the time who were unable to provide an explanation as to what these symbols meant. Dissatisfied with the responses, Mr Matthews decided to continue his research into this ancient puzzle with the help of Joan Rankin, an authority in prehistory.

Stone 52 with ‘The Eye’ symbol. From Left: Stone 52 today (Credit: Lloyd Matthews), Replica of Stone 52

Stone 52 with ‘The Eye’ symbol. From Left: Stone 52 today , Replica of Stone 52 ( Credit: Lloyd Matthews), Stone 52 in 1867.

Stone 53 with ‘The Dividers’ symbol.

Stone 53 with ‘The Dividers’ symbol. Credit: Lloyd Matthews

Stone 59 with ‘The Parallels’. Left: Stone 59 today. Right: Replica of Stone 59 as it would have once stood.

Stone 59 with ‘The Parallels’. Left: Stone 59 today. Right: Replica of Stone 59. Credit: Lloyd Matthews

Together, they may have not only successfully cracked the mystery of these three symbols but also discovered the original purpose of 56 unusual holes that were dug around Stonehenge during the very first phase of its construction, famously known as the Aubrey Holes. It appears that these holes could likely have been used as a calendar counting system used to keep track of each passing day, with six and a half revolutions around Stonehenge marking a full year, and using the rising of the Summer Solstice sun as a way of astronomically marking the starting point of each new year.

Replica of Stonehenge showing the Aubrey holes

Replica of Stonehenge showing the Aubrey holes ( public domain )

As for the mysterious shapes carved into the Trilithons, they have shown how these symbols may have been deliberately positioned to allow the ancient astronomers at Stonehenge keep track of other significant astronomical cycles, including its use not only as a solar calendar but also as a lunar calendar.

Dr Derek Cunningham, an established archaeological expert has even embraced this new theory himself, saying that "the idea is based on some solid observations. Not only can Lloyd now explain his three shapes, Joan's ideas help explain the layout and also the number of Aubrey Holes seen at the site. Neither had been satisfactorily explained before."

Dr Cunningham goes on to say, "Further work is expected, but it now appears that Stonehenge may finally be giving up some of its secrets."

Original Source Material:  Rankin, J., Matthews, J., & Matthews, L. (2015). The Stonehenge Carvings. Available HERE.

Article source: Rankin, J., Matthews, J., Matthews, L., & Cunningham, D.  The Aubrey Hole Calendar – Why 56 Holes. Available HERE


The eye "carving" on Stone 52 referred to in this article is in fact just an area of different lichen species which appears related to where grafittit has been cleaned off in the past. See for a closer view.

We would refer you to the picture in "Stonehenge - A History in Photographs" by Julian Richards an English Publication first published 2004 (ISBN 1-85074-895-0). On page 16 there is a photograph dated 1867 by Colonel Sir Henry Jones (NMR BB 95/50010). In it one can see that there is a feature that can be clearly seen on the outer facing surface of Trilithon 52 which predates the 1960's graffiti that many of the experts claim that this feature is attributed to.

Colin Berry's picture

It's not clear why "Stone 59" appears in the gallery of images, without specific reference to its more common name "the Altar Stone". Nor is it clear why it is assumed that it was once upright instead of recumbent at present .Prof  Mike Parker-Pearson ofUCL was less than fulsome in his 2012 book in providing such thin evidence for it having once been upright (it’s to do with "the shape of the ends" you know).

Let's not forget either that the Altar Stone has a unique geology where Stonehenge is concerned, being neither local sarsen, nor matching the smaller ‘bluestones' of Welsh origin. It's described as a green micaceous sandstone, the largest of the bluestones, but  non-igneous, i.e. sedimentary,  in contrast to the 'igneous  Preseli (?) bluestones (spotted dolerite, rhyolite etc), and said to originate from an entirely different part of Wales (the Milford Haven area). Special geology imples special role, yes? Calendar marking? Maybe, but one needs first to do proper justice to more basic down-to-earth alternatives (e.g.the rituals associated with life and death, notably the Neolithic perceived imperatives of release of the spirit from mortal remains).

The purpose of the longitudinal scooped-out groove, clearly hand cut ?  OK, so the edges can be described as “Parallels” ( a new one on me). There's a more obvious non-calandar  role if it is indeed correctly described as an intentionally- recumbent altar stone. Nope, not human sacrifice as was once the fashionable theory, but still death-ritual related if viewed as  the ‘picnic table’ - if you’ll pardon the expression -  of a "sky burial" site, the encircling stone circle and lintels providing high perches for excarnating bird life (gulls, crows etc):

Shorter summary in preparation (to be posted in the next week or so).


Mr. Berry the stone which we call stone 59 is not the Altar Stone. 59 and 60 were part of a trilithon in the Horseshoe.

Most of your comment has nothing to do with our paper.

Perhaps you should read the paper before making up your mind about this.

Colin Berry's picture

You say I should read “the” paper, which I did, but there are two papers cited at the end of your article, and I thought, maybe mistakenly, that I could base my comment on what I read in the first.

The source of the confusion is Google’s image search returns under (altar stone stonehenge). All but the last image in the top row are NOT of the Altar Stone (Stone 80) but apparently your Stone 59. It doesn’t help that none of my three books on Stonehenge, namely: (1)  English Heritage’s guide by Julian Richards, (2) Mike Parker-Pearson’s “Stonehenge” (2012) and (3) Brian John’s book on the bluestones has a photo of either the Altar Stone or Stone 59,, and indeed the Altar Stone gets scarcely a mention in any of the texts either.

The only source  in that top row to show the ‘real’ Altar Stone No 80 (WITHOUT the groove, “parallels”, notch etc) is the site.

Thank you  Joan for the corrective.



The Altar stone used in the Stonehenge model is from the Forest of Dean Quarry, and is a Bixhead Blue, which is a micaceous sandstone. Souden (1997) states, "The central altar stone also came from Southwest Wales; it is usually identified as a greenish sandstone with mica, from the Cosheston Beds of the south coast, although other possibilities have been advanced". Duff & Smith (1992, pg 188, 189) indicate that the rocks of the Forest of Dean belong to the Devonian group and the Cosheston group, outcroping in South West Wales is included in this group (Centre for Heritage, Archaeology, Stone & Masonry Structures).

Are you sure that you are correct in referring to "Stone 59" as being the Altar Stone? We would agree that the evidence can be debated as to whether the original Altar Stone, which I believe is marked as Stone 80 on the 'Ancient Monuments Branch, Ministry of Public Building and Works' plan, would have been lying or standing. In fact the Altar Stone at the Maryhill 'Stonehenge Veterans Memorial' was constructed in the lying position.

Before commenting on the description we have given for Trilithon 59 as "Parallels", we would respectfully suggest that you read our reasoned and evidenced based argument that we have given on pages 50 - 54 of our paper 'The Stonehenge Carvings'. Once you have read this you will understand that there is nothing coincidental about why this carving was on this stone. You will also read that whilst it has been termed the "Parallels" in fact that there was something more to discover on this Trilithon.

You made reference to the work of Professor Mike Parker Pearson of UCL regarding the Altar Stone; he has been advised of our findings.

As a foot note to this article I would like to mention the Heel stone. It is assumed by the general public to be the marker for Summer Solstice Sunrise but the Sun has never risen there and still doesn't. Perhaps in several hundred years but not now and not in 3000 BCE either.

The Heel stone is sometimes reffered to as the Friar's Heel stone this is believed to have come from Freyja's He-ol or Heol stone. Freyja is Venus and He, ol and heol are Welsh words. He = to sow and ol = track. Heol = road. So the Heel stone is Venus' to sow track or Venus' road.

The first day of our calendar was Summer Solstice 3154 BCE. This was a very important day for astronomers who wanted to keep track of cycles.

Venus, as the Morning Star, rose at the Heel stone and did so every eight years on Summer Solstice. Next event still works.

It seems I have made an error about Venus. For 56 years from 3170 to 3114 BCE Venus did rise at the Heel stone. Then I checked 2019 CE and Venus was rising at the Heel stone again.

However, after checking this out in more depth, I found that Venus rises between about 48 degrees to about 58 degrees. This drift is very slow and because I found it rising at the Heel stone for 56 years and then again in 2019 I assumed it always rose there every eight years on Summer Solstice.

One should never assume anything.

Stonehenge Decoded by Gerald S Hawkins 

This book, copyrighted in 1965 and republished in 1993 by Barnes and Noble, is well worth reading as his analysis of Stonehenge's Aubrey Holes reveals striking evidence they are directly related to the lunar cycle. They also are accurate predictors for lunar eclipses. Also he discovered other solar/lunar correspondences which I am not going to attempt to explain.  

Hawkins approached Stonehenge as a puzzle to be solved.

"Hawkins decided to investigate the reason for that particular, peculiar arrangement of stones and holes at Stonehenge. He stood at each position and measured it's various alignments. . . .Back in Cambridge MA he fed the measurements he had taken into a huge computer and his original theories were confirmed: 

-The archways and stones point to the extreme standstills of the sun and moon on the horizon.

-The mysterious Aubrey Holes were probably used to predict the movements of the sun and the moon, and eclipses. Stonehenge was a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived astronomical observatory, used by three different groups of people over a 400 year period beginning around 2000 BC." (From dust jacket Stonehenge Decoded published 1993.)

I do suggest those who wish a scholarly read by an astronomer once associated with the Harvard-Smithsonian Observatories in Cambridge MA, where while working with Sir Bernard Lovell discovered the daylight meteor streams, read this interesting and informative book which has scholarly proofs! 

Why this book, which is never mentioned in the many articles and videos which have proliferated in modern media, has been gathering dust for years I just don't understand! 

Please! Somebody rescue this book from the obscurity to which it has been consigned!

I read that book many years ago. I found it fascinating but then I realized that the Aubrey hole circle could be used as a day by day calendar to count off a Solar year and a Lunar year. It can predict eclipses in several ways and keep track of the cycles of the planets which were followed at that time. I did my own astronomy because Hawkins was using the Heel stone for Summer Solstice Sunrise but it still hasn't risen there. Along the way we discovered other astronomy which made the calendar even more interesting. I never understood that Hawkins never saw that 6.5 x 56 = 364 + 1 = 365. That book got me into this.

You are wrong

The best example of such speculations still has to be "The Great Pyramid Decoded". However we must ask ourselves WHY exactly people become obsessed with calendars and "ley" lines and imagine it a Great Discovery that the sun rises at a certain point at the same place every year depending on your viewpoint and position....

Not to unkind, BUT, unfortunately we can all make exactly the same observations at home and mark then on the window or the garden wall or whatever, and we can all do this without having to build pyramids, or Henges, or Karnac or Avebury or Callaneish or Northgrange.

Just as we all have watches, so too very probably did the ancients, as this kind of knowledge is not the sort that can be kept secret by some sort of "sacred priesthood".

ANY group of stones, or trees can be turned into a clock or a calendar, and there are a myriad of easily readable signs in Nature indicating sowing times etc- ask any farmer anywhere on Earth.

So NO! that was not the purpose of these standing stones, or any others, in that it was not there reason for being, or the cause of their being transported with difficulty and put up in a pattern. If you go to Carnac in France there are a lot of stones. There are a lot of stones at Avebury, and unlike Stonehenge, you do not get charged £20 to see them!!

But they are just stones. Back in the day, there was no TV or radio. There was no writing, no literature that we know of, and Asterix and Obelix just needed something to do that would create an interesting activity and a community, maybe somebody thought, we could create something that will impress and yes, possibly mystify future generations, just like artists do now. They could just be sculptures.

Much of what you say is quite true and I have lived in a place for more than 40 years and have been able to watch the Sunset every evening when it wasn't raining or snowing............and over time I knew where about the sun should be at Summer Solstice etc.

Farming is mostly the weather. I have planted at the end of May but this year, planting might be ok in a couple of weeks. You harvest when things are ripe. You don't need a calendar for that.

In 3000 BCE people were very much into astrology and astrologers then were astronomers. Astronomy is at the root of surveying and navigating. There is plenty of proof on the landscape of many countries were people have been surveying. If you wanted to go out to sea, you needed to know astronomy and navigation which was based on that astronomy.

From the grave goods in some of the barrows we can see that there were elites. With elites usually come the shaman? priests? astronomer/astrologers? or all those things. They set the feast days which were based on the calendar and it would be very handy to be able to tell folks to get ready for the feast in ten days. Your average farmer was not going to be able to tell you that by just looking at Sunset. Ordinary folks never did figure out eclipses, that was kept secret and used. That knowledge was power to those who knew how to use it.

We take calendars for granted, every device has one. Eclipses are a curiousity, no longer something to fear and we have GPS to take us anywhere. But then there was only the stars, the Sun and the Moon to keep track by.

In your reply to my post you make a number of statements for which there is no proof at all. The concept of shaman and the concept of religious elites guarding secrets to maintain a grip on the "ignorant" populace is , of course, very popular amongst academics who themselves imagine they are an elite. But there is some trueh missing from these concepts, as you will have noticed how much we, as others, communicate with each other. No practical knowledge of this at all has ever been kept secret from populations, since if there were elites then and there as you claim, they are entirely and wholly dependant for sustenance and defence etc on the population as a whole, whom historically they have always helped and guided in these ways, unless as Galileo and Copernicus they were shut up , not to preserve secrecy, but to save face.

No, a religious elite exists and guards secrets of a spiritual nature, and these shamans, guides etcetera have always existed outside of buildings and any organized religions and worship, so that even the concept of Stonehenge being a construction for the benefit of initiates, druids or shamans is ridiculous, laughable. Additionally all the holes and markers you have researched so well, and with such commitment very probably had some part in the way that Stonehenge was built. Just as builders leave measuring marks now. What I noticed years later again trying to read Le Mesuriers (clue?) book on Gizeh was how he was consistently taking mere coincidence between unrelated measurements in unrelated fields, and even dimensions of time and space, to be significant, and to have meaning, where it all really only smoke and mirrors, like poetry and philosophy and religious "doctrines" are.

Our paper does not speak of religion, shaman or elites. The 93 page paper, The Stonehenge Carvings, discusses the evolution of calendar keeping at Stonehenge. And that's all.

The Aubrey hole circle was a calendar counting device. I have no idea what they used the construction in the centre for. That wasn't needed for calendar keeping.

AS a suggestion, and to finally settle matters between yourselves, please build a replica with the Aubrey holes and all the bits everyone speculates about, aligned exactly howsoever your belief system concludes things should be, and check out your theories in 3D instead of computer models that are too far removed from human experience to impress.

Then , while you are at it- and it can just be a small scale balsa wood model, or even clay fired replicas of all the stones etc; try remembering the debut of 2001: and the apes are yourselves......

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