More Than Summer Solstice - Prehistoric Calendar Revealed at Stonehenge
As the Summer Solstice for the northern hemisphere has come around, the craving to celebrate at the world-famous Stonehenge Neolithic site has again proven irresistible to crowds of people wishing to watch the Sun rise above the Heel Stone and shine on the central altar. For those 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.
English Heritage, who manage the iconic Wiltshire site had planned to welcome those coming to celebrate, but with Covid measures in England extended until July 17, the anticipated numbers would have exceeded the 4,000 limit for public events, and so the event was cancelled. However, hundreds of dedicated people still arrived at the site and hopped over the fence into the main stone circle. The invasion was described as ‘peaceful’ by the police, but the illegal gathering still forced English Heritage to halt their live broadcast of the annual solar event, to the disappointment of more than 200,000 who had tuned in to watch the sunrise live at 04:52 BST. Another case of the determined dissenting few ruining things for the law-abiding majority.
But is the sole importance of the site to be placed on just a few dates in the year, or is there more to the complicated structure? Of course, its perfect alignment for the solstices make it the go to destination in England for the summer and winter solstices, but the full purpose of the Neolithic builders is still being fathomed out. Indeed, the mystery that surrounds Stonehenge is so enduring and popular that in recent years over 1.5 million visitors have flocked to this ancient monument each year. 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 ( Michael D Martin / Flickr )
Stonehenge was built in three phases between 3,000 BC and 1,600 BC. 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. There are those that argue that Stonehenge was used for more than just marking the winter and summer solstices, or as a sacred burial site.
In recent years, 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, was 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 today and in the past. Credit: Lloyd Matthews
Summer Solstice is just the beginning (of the year?)
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 , Replica of Stone 52 ( Credit: Lloyd Matthews), Stone 52 in 1867.
Stone 53 with ‘The Dividers’ symbol. Credit: Lloyd Matthews
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 ( 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."
The full report on these findings can be read at the following links:
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.
SOURCE The Office of Lloyd Matthews
Top image: Image of Stonehenge.
By James Matthews
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......
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.
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.
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.
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.