Prehistoric Calendar Revealed at Stonehenge

Prehistoric Calendar Revealed at Stonehenge


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

SOURCE The Office of Lloyd Matthews

Top image: Image of Stonehenge. 

By James Matthews


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.

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.



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

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).


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.


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