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Stonehenge: Lunar and Solar Anonymity in Three Stages

By Duane Dunkerson

Some of the strong remorseless stones of Stonehenge have been in Salisbury Plain in Wessex in the south of England for forty centuries. Stonehenge, with or without stones, has been in existence for thirty-five centuries. Stonehenge has been written about for nine centuries.

As Horace Walpole observed in 1786 - "It is remarkable that whoever has treated of this monument has bestowed on it whatever class of antiquity he was particularly fond of." In the twelfth century it was asserted that Merlin the magician had had a hand in moving the stones to Salisbury Plain. In the seventeenth century, I. Jones argued that Stonehenge was a Roman temple. In the eighteenth century John Aubrey and William Stukeleyboth thought the Romans were involved with Stonehenge but only because British Druids had a temple at Stonehenge as a focus for resistance to Roman conquest.

In the fourth century BC, Hecateus wrote of The Hyperboreans living in an island opposite to the Celts of Gaul. The Hyperboreans made homage to the Sun god, Apollo. They did so in a sacred place having a circular temple. Others in centuries much later than the fourth century BC have Stonehenge as an agreeable structure for the Magi or the Ghaurs. If not for them, then perhaps it is a colossal Asiatic temple, a temple of Boodh? Perhaps it was more scientific and served as a model for the motions in the heavens? It could have been constructed according to Pythagorean geometry or rather it was a temple dedicated to Diana, goddess of the Moon. In a not so cultural sense, it may have been an effort in construction directed by a great Indo-European cow chief.

Cow chiefs are not necessarily invoked to account for megalithic (built with large stones) monuments other than Stonehenge. Such monuments are to be found as cromlechs (circles of stone usually enclosing dolmens), dolmens (monuments of two or more upright stones supporting a horizontal stone slab), and menhirs (single standing stones) from India to Ireland and from North Africa to Scandinavia. Some other Stonehenge-like groups do exist such as in Arabia. The wisdom of the ancient East came to Stonehenge but no particulars about Stonehenge are thus revealed.

Nor is an extra-regional wisdom apparent in megalithic monuments and structures that are similar in some aspects to Stonehenge. In Britain the Avebury monument has a bank, ditch, and great stone circle on a scale grander than at Stonehenge. Very close to Stonehenge, but only recognized in 1923 from an aircraft sighting, is Woodhenge. It has post holes in settings on an axis pointing at the midsummer solstice. At the center of Woodhenge is a grave. In the grave is the skeleton of a sacrificial child. Around the grave are indications of the frame of a large wooden building. Another wooden henge, not so close to Stonehenge, has its post holes arranged in a horseshoe as Stonehenge also has some of its parts arranged in horseshoes. Yet another henge called the Sanctuary has been destroyed but it was known, before destruction, from Stukeley. It was a wooden circle, that is, its components were of wood. Then it became a stone circle. However, it did not have lintels atop standing stones as at Stonehenge. These monuments are but a few of many intentional circles and stones set up in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and France.

In the area near and for miles around Stonehenge are barrows. These are burial sites, usually heaps of earth. In the area of Stonehenge are about 450 barrows. At first, the barrows were long and date from 4,000 BC. The long barrows were for burial of any community or tribal member. Later came round barrows and only, presumably, more important personages were interred in these sites. Skeletons were found in the barrows but also cremated remains are known to be there. Stonehenge is located in a vast cemetary.

Some of those whose remains are in the barrows may have contributed to the building of Stonehenge. Over centuries and in three major stages structures at Stonehenge were created. Only in the last stage were there stone pillars and lintels. Some stones were set up in earlier stages of Stonehenge but earlier larger structures at Stonehenge had been made of wood. The builders of the last stage of Stonehenge were different from earlier builders of the other stages who had used wood.

At Stonehenge in its last stage, the builders were putting woodbuilding procedures into practice with stone. No mortar was used. The lintels were held in position above the uprights with tenon and mortice. The lintels were put up with the intention that they were to connect with one another and form a continuous circle. The lintels were fitted together with tongue and groove. Mortice and tenon with the tongue and groove are techniques taken from carpentry. Only Stonehenge had the lintels in the circle of stones.

Some of the stones were massive. Nevertheless, they could have been brought to the site and set up by rope, wood logs and piles, and men of a few hundred at most. With these elements of the plan at hand then a forceful motive could supply the animation. Surely it was a grand sight once it got as far as they could go. Apparently they ran out material or men or will power.

The wind swept the Plain and erosion began. Tourists centuries later added to the eroding. Other than tourists may have altered arrangements or broke stones and carted them away. The tourists of centuries ago could want a piece of Stonehenge to call their own. The guardian of more recent times for Stonehenge might approach them to sell, from his pocket, a few stone chips. But most tourists realized that these chips were probably taken from plowed fields nearby. The "conscientious" (seeking the genuine article) tourist would bring a hammer and slam away at the sarsen stones. But they would find, as did the builders of Stonehenge, that modification of the sarsens was best accomplished with other sarsen and such was no longer readily available in the tourist's time. A hammer could be easily enough brought on site and employed with only remonstrances from the guardian or bystanders. Power tools would have quickly destroyed Stonehenge but their availability came late enough, and the urge to bring them on site lost out to Stonehenge being removed from private hands and placed in national trust.

The guardians, mostly self-appointed, were to be replaced. In 1882, a version of Sir Lubbock's Ancient Monuments Bill was enacted. This had no effect on the private ownership of Stonehenge. In Victorian times, a secure fence had been proposed to be in place around Stonehenge. It was to be of Crump's Improved Angle-Iron Frame Vertical Bar and Hurdle No. 31 with excellent spikes.

Finally, in 1898, Stonehenge was offered for sale. A fortune was asked for the release of Stonehenge. The great threat was seen to come from the United States. An American millionaire, never named, was the ever-present bogeyman who desired to remove Stonehenge to America. Then too those uncouth Americans might bring the circus to Stonehenge. But no, Stonehenge stayed put and British soldiers would later travel by at a distance of five yards and artillery exercises would shake the stones. On December, 31, 1900, a gale force wind blew over a sarsen and its lintel fell and broke. Then a fence went up and admission was charged. Should Stonehenge be restored, they asked. Put it all in a bed of concrete? Perhaps all that could be done was to allow for pious decay.

By the early 1930's there could be 15,000 visitors per month. In 1935 a parking lot was built. In 1958 the stones that had fallen in 1900 and 1797 were put back up, in concrete. In addition, in 1963 a stone fell and it was set back up. In 1971 there were 550,000 visitors. In 1991 there were 615,000. In the 60's came mobs. They knocked down fences and, at times, they would engulf the Druids.

The present day Druids were self-appointed in 1781, modeled on freemasons. Their nonsense included sickles, blindfolds, and mysteries in their Santa Claus beards. They first visited Stonehenge on, August 24, 1905, coming in by train. Stukeley and Aubrey had dished up and fed the fantasy of certain ancient Druids. Their Druids had been temple keepers. They installed Indo-European chieftains at Stonehenge. The Romans did not tolerate the Druids who usually performed their rites in wooded groves. The Romans tried to cut down the groves. The Romans may have not liked the alleged human sacrifices the Druids committed.

With or without Druidic influence Stonehenge was located amidst burial sites of that area. The site for the first Stonehenge had been cleared though it soon enough became overgrown. The landscape thereabouts was turning into grassland as trees were being felled without replacement. The first Stonehenge became part of a large group of ceremonial structures already a few hundred years old. A causeway camp was a territorial focus. Many, if not most, ceremonial sites had camps with causeways to demarcate territory. Before the first Stonehenge, a cursus was built. The greater Crusus was a long and straight earthwork 100 yards wide and 3000 yards long. There was a bank and a ditch on either side. The Greater Cursus is 800 yards north of Stonehenge. There is a smaller cursus to the northwest of Stonehenge. Such cursuses are not unique to the Stonehenge area. At least twenty more are to be found in Britain. One cursus is six and one quarter miles in length. It is the Dorset Cursus at Cranborne Chase.

The first Stonehenge came about around 3100 to 2300 BC. It was one of five henges in the area. A ditch was dug into chalk with deer antler picks. The removed chalk was placed six feet high in gleaming white piles. A large entrance was made facing the northeast. Within the bank were 56 holes, now called Aubrey holes, which were dug and filled in almost as soon as they were dug. None of the Aubrey holes contained stones or posts. An on-site investigator named Hawley checked the 56 Aubrey holes and found them to be sixteen feet apart in a circle. The holes were with straight sides and flat bottoms. Almost all of the holes contained cremations. The holes were six feet in width and four feet deep.

Then around 2150 to 2000 BC the second major developments at Stonehenge were undertaken. The second Stonehenge had its axis shifted more toward the east. The new orientation was to the rising Sun at midsummer solstice. The accuracy of this newer orientation was to a high degree of precision. Near the center were placed bluestones (spotted dolerite) that had been brought to Stonehenge from elsewhere. The blue stones were in a double circle, called the Q and the R, but the circle was not finished. Around 2,000 BC, these bluestones were removed and their holes were filled in.

Then around 2100 to 2000 BC the third Stonehenge was begun on the site. This is the standing stones with lintels that are now known as the Stonehenge. Stonehenge number three has been divided into three phases of construction. In phase one, ten stones of sarsen (a variety of sandstone) were carefully trimmed and placed in a horseshoe. The smoother side was turned inward. The uprights were about seven feet wide and spaced 3.5 feet apart. They are oriented to the northeast with the bulk of the stones smallest in the northeast and increasing in bulk as one goes to the southwest. Thirty smaller but still immense stones were place upright in an outer circle with thirty lintels to form a continuous level ring sixteen feet high. The uprights were not all of the same length so in order to have them all at the same height above ground, holes of different depths were dug. One stone of the outer circle was one half as high as the rest of the stones in the circle. It had not been as lengthy to begin with.

In the second phase of Stonehenge three, in about 2000 to 1550 BC, twenty bluestones were dressed and placed with the sarsen horseshoe in an oval. At 1550 BC the holes designated as the Y and Z groups were dug outside the sarsens but nothing was set in them.

Lastly, in phase three (1500 to 1100 BC) of stage three of Stonehenge the bluestones were reset into a horseshoe in the sarsens horseshoe with an increase in size to the southwest, and a circle of bluestones was put within the sarsen circle.

In sum, then, as one walks toward the center, there is a sarsen circle with the continuous lintels, then a bluestone circle in encountered. After that, there is a sarsen horseshoe with some lintels, then more bluestones, and then the so-called Altar Stone that now is fallen but once probably stood upright. The Alter Stone is of a different sandstone than the sarsens.

The uprights of the outer circle taper at the top in a convex manner like at the top of the columns of classical Greece. In the case of the Greeks, the slight curve placed there is called entasis. The uprights are not of equal width since they were not found to be so and they could not be reworked to be so; but the uprights are so that their centers are of equal distance apart. The lintels are also curved on the outside and the inside faces so they make for a smooth circle. The lintels are within an inch of being a perfect circle and they are nearly precisely level. A great deal of the sarsen material had to be trimmed from the initial stones. Very laborious work was done with stone tools. Sarsen tools were needed to work the sarsen stones.

The full range of work at Stonehenge concerns 1200 years or about 55 generations. For us, Stonehenge spans forty centuries. Certainly it is a definitive component of what we mean when we apply the word "monumental" to any and all sites, structures, or societies. The phases of Stonehenge three reach across 1600 years. This time span is more than what separates us from the Romans.

From across this great gulf in time, Gerald Hawkins, astronomer at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, proposed in 1965 that Stonehenge was set up and used as an observatory for the prediction of solar and lunar eclipses. He found, by using an IBM computer and "Oscar", a plotting machine, that Stonehenge was used to find the midsummer Sun and the rising and set points of the Moon in both summer and winter. But these concerns, if any, by the builders of Stonehenge, are centuries apart. That is, Stonehenge was first set up for lunar concerns, then solar. Hawkins also claimed that the Aubury holes were for lunar counters, wooden posts, to be moved about in the holes in order to secure prediction of lunar eclipses. However, the Aubury holes were dug very early on in the stages for Stonehenge construction. They belong to the time when Stonehenge was mostly a circular enclosure, that is, to the Stonehenge one stage. From Stonehenge, as a lunar predictor, until and through Stonehenge two, with a solar preoccupation, would entail a continuity of astronomical concerns unparalleled in prehistoric, ancient, or modern times. Such a concern is associated with civilizations and there were no civilizations in Britain to support such a science.

The solar character of the arrangements of stone at Stonehenge are, for Hawkins , dependent on a stone called the Heel Stone from Stonehenge one and the Alter Stone from Stonehenge three, third phase. There has been found to be some astronomical significance for how the stones are arranged in the later versions of Stonehenge. Nevertheless, to characterize such arrangements as comparable to computer-generated predictions is going too far.

Among these arrangements are the four Station Stones. These stones are in mounds within Stonehenge. It is not known to which of the three Stonehenges the Station Stones belong. Hawkins thought the Station Stones were set up to be alignments to mark the extremes of lunar and solar settings. Another investigator, Newham, believed the Station Stones were used to mark alignment in the sky for equinoxes. Newham also found that the sides of the rectangle that the Stations stones form showed correlation with lunar positions on the horizon such as Moon rise and set at what are termed the standstills. Stonehenge is at a latitude so that lunar and solar positions in the sky are at right angles. A bit more north or south of Stonehenge and the Station Stones would have had to be in a parallelogram to relate lunar to solar events.

Newham stated that the twenty-nine and one half stones of the sarsen ring were as 29.5 days of the lunar month. The one half stone, he felt, was deliberately shorter than the other 29. Others think the builders were running out of the larger sarsens. Newham said the count of the lunar years in its 18.61 year cycle toward its most northerly rising was accomplished with movable posts as sighting aids placed in the entrance to the causeway. Furthermore, the Heel Stone, Newham noted, was in the middle of the posts devoted to lunar positioning. The Heel Stone is often seen in photos with a rising midsummer Sun above it in Stonehenge three. In Stonehenge one, the Heel Stone was the only stone and probably had no significance for astronomical purposes. If, as Newham asserts, the Heel Stone was put to lunar purposes, it later was placed on an axis for the general orientation of Stonehenge to the Sun.

The idea of the orientation, if not alignment of Stonehenge to the Sun, was give much impetus by the 1977 discovery of a hole alongside the Heel Stone. It was thought the pair could be a frame for the Sun at midsummer sunrise. The Sun would have put light between them and between two more stones and then two more until ending on the Altar Stone at the center of Stonehenge. This megalithic channel is evidence of considerable skill and interest.

The makers of Stonehenge built latest in stone. Wood, for supporting a science of astronomy, would have done as well or better. But the stones of Stonehenge are there for their stability, to deny the flux of weather and the other altering factors of life. Stonehenge is surrounded by graves. Beyond life there is the factor of death. The graves were dug for permanence. Stonehenge put the permanence in an aspect of an enduring indication that death was accepted and duly noted.

The sarsens were once plentiful near Stonehenge. Six hundred stones were taken from those nearby areas. They were not all used for acceptance and notation. In other areas like Cumbria there is Long Meg and her Daughters. Solar shadow spirals are carved on Long Meg. The circle at Castlerigg has a spiral. There are others elsewhere. At Woodhenge the posts follow the Sun.

In 1953 there were suddenly seen daggers and axes carved in some of Stonehenge's stones. The Sun and death and the axe go together in primitive society throughout Western Europe. The carvings on the Stonehenge stones were of a style not found in Britain. They were like those to be found in Brittany, in France. Stonehenge's sarsens had associated circles, rectangle, horseshoe, and a center stone. The circle is common in Britain. Horseshoes abound in Brittany. Rectangles are also in Brittany. The Bretons also had central stones. Burial articles near Stonehenge are very much like similar objects found in burials in Brittany. Carnac in Brittany has 3,000 menhirs used as replacements for trees in order to be sight lines for astronomical events. Away from Brittany and like that light channel of Stonehenge is Newgrange in Ireland. Newgrange is a chambered tomb facing southeast. At the midwinter solstice the rising Sun brings a narrow shaft of light into the tomb and down a passage to shine on a decorated stone at the end of the chamber.

So then this tomb at Newgrange was an astronomical temple? Stonehenge has been termed such too. Others, like Hawkins, go further. One of the others was J. Smith, who in 1770, without the aid of instruments but having White's Ephemeris, declared - "There can be no doubt that Stonehenge was an observatory; the impartial mathematics of probability and the celestial sphere are on my side." Later it would be IBM and Oscar in one's court.

Neither the IBM nor Oscar could have sensed the sublime terror that the singular Stonehenge can bring into one's mind. Others have found Stonehenge to be a letdown after all the build up to inflame dilated imaginations so that they could complain they could build it better - only let there be enough money. Royalty, having no need of money, visited Stonehenge. They came as others did, for a picnic. Sometimes hundreds came and their trash was left again and again. Cricket was played on the grounds until the 1920's. Buses, buggies, and wagons came and newspapers, diapers, bones (chicken or pork), horse poop or pee commemorated their visits.

But you could then and now find a calm time in a quiet day in a cold season and relate well to what Sassoon wrote -

"What is Stonehenge? It is the roofless past;
Man's ruinous myth; his interred adoring
Of the unknown in sunrise cold and red;
His quest of stars that arch his doomed exploring.

And what is time but shadows that were cast
By these storm-sculptured stones while centuries fled?
The stones remain; their stillness can outlast
The skies of history hurrying overhead."










Copyright © 2006
by Duane Dunkerson

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