Did Lightning Determine Locations For Neolithic Stone Monuments?
A recently published scientific study adopting new technologies has revealed how a lightning strike 5,000 years ago might have inspired Neolithic builders to construct the iconic Callanish Stone circle in the Outer Hebrides archipelago off the west coast of Scotland.
The newly generated geophysical survey map first revealed a burned star-shaped lightning pattern lay around a single stone known as 'site XI', about 2.8km from the famous Callanish great circle in the island's Loch Roag area, which is believed to have been built around 3000 BC. Then the archaeological geophysical survey, based at ancient monuments on the Isle of Lewis, a Scottish Hebridean Island, revealed a star-shaped burn mark beneath peat at the Callanish stone circle covering an area of 20 meters in diameter which is suspected to have been formed by lightning strikes.
Geophysical survey revealed a lightning strike at the center of the Callanish stone circle. (Dr Richard Bates, University of St Andrews)
Do Standing Stones Represent Lightning?
Over the last 150 years Scottish stone circles have been presented as ritualistic sites that align with the movements of the Sun and the Moon against horizons but most scholars in the field have struggled to account for the many stone circles that have no recognized relationship with such alignments. Now a team of archaeologists have provided evidence that our Neolithic forbears were inspired to construct their stone monuments having watched lightning striking the Earth.
The new geophysical techniques mapped hitherto unobserved buried features and the new evidence shows the 1.5-metre-high standing stone was originally part of another stone circle with the lightning strike pattern at its center. One of the archaeologists, Professor Vincent Gaffney, told The Guardian: 'We're really excited´ and that the discovery was ´completely and utterly unexpected and remarkable´.
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Stone circle at Callanish, Isle of Lewis, Western Isles, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, UK. (Colin & Linda McKie/ Adobe Stock)
Community Centers or Space Platforms?
The Neolithic agricultural revolution began in Syria and Iraq between about 11000 BC and 9000 BC and reached Britain about 5000 BC and northern Scotland around 4500 BC. At this time nomadic hunting, gathering and fishing stations were settled at all year round and farming sparked the first of the Neolithic settlements around which many modern villages, towns and cities were built.
Soon after the first settlers established farms in the north of Scotland, they began building vast stone burial cairns and erected towering standing stones and expansive stone circles for community ceremonies, religious rituals and feasts and as trading centers. But now, the researchers said that lightning strikes might have hit trees or rocks and may have been 'part of the game' in choosing where to locate the stone circles.
Maybe They Were Multipurpose?
Beginning in the 1930´s Professor Alexander Thom spent several decades studying Britain's standing stones and in the 1960´s he proposed that they may have served as lunar observatories and places to commemorate the dead. Thom also noted complex geometric considerations in the builders location determination processes for the stones and in August 2016, a new study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports developed Thom's purported astronomical link re-evaluating how and why Scotland's standing stones were built.
First considering how the stones aligned with significant astronomical events this was combined with data on the shape of the landscape and elevation of the ground suggesting that the ancient Neolithic builders held a deep ´understanding of the Universe´ and knew ´that it was cyclic and made up of opposites.´
Lead author Gail Higginbottom of the University of Adelaide, Australia, wrote in the paper that only ´two different-shaped horizons´ surrounded the most significant monuments which she said was ´pretty incredible in itself´, and that the landscapes on which the stones were set were specifically chosen to show the most extreme rising and setting points of the Sun and Moon. The study went so far as to say this was how the Callanish stone setting was located.
About Turn, Again…
Then, in a 2016 BBC article Dr Kenneth Brophy of the University of Glasgow in Scotland said “we cannot use current applications of science and maths to understand the builders’ motives and contrasts” and that contrary to the life work of Professor Alexander Thom he sees ´nothing´ in prehistoric life to suggest Neolithic people held a ´highly mathematical view of the world´. Brophy argued ´astronomy alone does not explain how they were made´ and he added that if you were going to build something that marks a particular lunar cycle, “I don't think you would put up stones of that scale, as it's unnecessary.”
Brophy maintained that the locations for stone circles would have been chosen because they had a ‘special history that people were drawn to’ and this new study suggests he is ‘bang on’. Could there possibly be a more ‘special history’ than a location stroked by the perceived magical forces of the gods, a flash of destructive lightning smashing against their territory? And it´s hard to conceive of a better monument to honor such an electric event than towering stones representing lightning stretching from heaven to Earth.
Top image: Callinish Stone Circle Source: swen_stroop / Adobe Stock
By Ashley Cowie