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Callanish stones at sunset.

Stone-Hard Evidence: Researchers Prove British Megaliths Are Connected to the Sun and Moon

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A team of researchers from the University of Adelaide has revealed an explanation to one of the greatest mysteries of the British standing stone monuments. According to them, the great stone circles were constructed specifically in line with the movements of the Sun and Moon 5,000 years ago.

An article in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports says the researchers used innovative 2D and 3D technology to construct quantitative tests of the alignment patterns of the standing stones.

The project is led by Dr. Gail Higginbottom, a University of Adelaide Visiting Research Fellow, who is also a Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian National University. The researchers explained in their article that nobody has ever statistically determined that a single stone circle was constructed with astronomical phenomena in mind. Earlier, researchers supposed that it may be so, but there was no concrete evidence which could confirm this belief before the present study.

The Callanish standing stones on the Isle of Lewis.

The Callanish standing stones on the Isle of Lewis. (Colin Macdonald/CC BY 2.0)

The researchers examined some of the oldest great stone circles built in Scotland, for example Callanish, on the Isle of Lewis, and Stenness, Isle of Orkney ─ both predating Stonehenge's standing stones by about 500 years. They discovered many fascinating facts. As Gail Higginbottom told Phys.Org:

"For example, at 50% of the sites, the northern horizon is relatively higher and closer than the southern and the summer solstice Sun rises out of the highest peak in the north. At the other 50% of sites, the southern horizon is higher and closer than the northern, with the winter solstice Sun rising out of these highest horizons. These people chose to erect these great stones very precisely within the landscape and in relation to the astronomy they knew. They invested a tremendous amount of effort and work to do so. It tells us about their strong connection with their environment, and how important it must have been to them, for their culture and for their culture's survival."

The excavation is a part of the Western Scotland Megalithic Landscape Project. Through their analyses, the researchers found an impressive concentration of alignments towards the Sun and Moon at different times of their cycles.

2,000 years later the inhabitants of Scotland created much simpler monuments, but these were also made according to astronomical alignments as well. The examined stones are not only connected with the Sun and the Moon; they were related to the landscape and horizon too. It all combined to become a sort of astro-theater, which was made based on their creators’ knowledge and observations.

Sunset at the Standing Stones of Stenness, Orkney.

Sunset at the Standing Stones of Stenness, Orkney. (Fantoman400/CC BY SA 3.0)

The publication by Dr. Higginbottom and her team confirmed that the ancient Britons connected the Earth to the sky with their earliest standing stones, and that this practice continued in the same way for 2,000 years. Moreover, the people who created the megaliths chose surroundings that would have influenced the way the Sun and Moon were seen. They were able to depict the special time when the Moon appears at its most northerly position on the horizon, which only happens every 18.6 years and took place when the stone monuments were made.

There are about 1,000 stone circles in the British Isles and new discoveries are not so common nowadays.  However, Mark Miller from Ancient Origins reported on May 11, 2015, of new ''geophysical investigations into a stone circle discovered in 2007 in Dartmoor, southern England, [which] show the stones were once standing and may have been arranged in a “sacred” circle with seven other henges in the region.”

Nonetheless, most stone circles have been known about for as long as people can remember or were discovered many years ago and investigated in the Victorian era. Thus, scientists were happy to have the new circle to study - the first found in 100 years.

Grey Wethers - a pair of stone circles in Dartmoor. A view of both circles from the south.

Grey Wethers - a pair of stone circles in Dartmoor. A view of both circles from the south. (Herby/CC BY SA 4.0)

The stone circle in Dartmoor was discovered when workers did a controlled burn of undergrowth in a field to clear it. Radiocarbon dating of the soil beneath the stones showed that they fell about 4,000 years ago. The researchers were certain that the stones had been standing because they discovered packing material near their bases.

Top Image: Callanish stones at sunset. Source: Chris Combe/CC BY 2.0

By: Natalia Klimczak



Natalia Klimczak is an historian, journalist and writer and is currently a Ph.D. Candidate at the Faculty of Languages, University of Gdansk. Natalia does research in Narratology, Historiography, History of Galicia (Spain) and Ancient History of Egypt, Rome and Celts. She... Read More

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