The mysterious golden lozenge of Stonehenge
Almost everyone has heard of Stonehenge, the prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England made up of huge megalithic stones arranged in a circular shape. But not many people know about the spectacular and mysterious golden lozenge which was found in the grave of a chieftain within the Stonehenge complex.
In 1808, William Cunnington, one of Britain's earliest professional archaeologists, discovered what have become known as the crown jewels of the 'King of Stonehenge'. They were found within a large Bronze Age burial mound just ½ mile from Stonehenge, known today as Bush Barrow.
In a letter to archaeologist Sir Richard Colt Hoare, Cunnington wrote: "We found the skeleton of a stout and tall man. On approaching the breast of the skeleton we found immediately on the breast bone a fine plate of gold. This article in the form of a lozenge was fixed to a thin piece of wood, over the edges of which the gold was wrapped." There was a large golden belt-hook lying by his waist, which was decorated with delicate impressed linear lines, as well as another smaller diamond shaped lozenge.
What makes this artifact so important and unique is its decoration made of impressed lines, which reveals an incredibly advanced knowledge of mathematics and geometry. Detailed analysis of the design has shown both the shape and the decorative panels to have been created by repeating hexagons within a series of three concentric circles. The precision and accuracy displayed by the work demonstrates both a sophisticated tool kit and a sound knowledge of geometric form. David Dawson, director of Wiltshire Museum, describes the craftsmanship as "the work of the gods".
The golden lozenge was found within the Stonehenge Environs. Photo source: April Holloway
The purpose of the golden lozenge remains a mystery, although some believe it was an astronomical instrument. The astronomer Gerald Hawkins devised a theory that Stonehenge itself was used as a huge astronomical structure that could accurately measure solar and lunar movements, as well as eclipses. Another researcher, Dr Derek Cunningham, proposes that the geometrical structure of the lines is a form of astronomical writing . This theory suggests that because the earliest astronomers did not have an alphabetical system to work with, they simply did the next best thing and that was to write down their astronomical values as angles. In this way, a 27.32 sidereal month would be drawn as a line at 27.32 degrees.
"The Bush Barrow Lozenge is clearly consistent with the pattern being an archaic form of writing, with the lines representing, through the use of angles, the astronomical values central to the measurement of time and the prediction of eclipses," said Dr Cunningham.
The 19th century discovery of the Bush Barrow Lozenge highlights the fact that there are still many unanswered questions regarding this awe-inspiring and perplexing site of Stonehenge.