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Stonehenge and Other British Stone Monuments Astronomically Considered 


by Norman Lockyer

   Mystic Realms        Stonehenge




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ALTHOUGH I have before hinted that the astronomical use of the Egyptian temples and British circles was the same, there is at first sight a vast difference in the general plan of structure.

This has chiefly depended upon the fact that the riches and population of ancient Egypt were so great that that people could afford to build a temple to a particular star, or to the sun's position on any particular day of the year. The temple axis along the line pointing to the celestial body involved, then became the chief feature, and tens of years were spent in lengthening constricting and embellishing it.

From on end of an Egyptian. temple to the other we find the axis marked out by narrow apertures in the various pylons, and many walls with doors crossing the axis. There are seventeen or eighteen; of these apertures in the solar temple of Amen-Ra at Karnak, limiting the light which into the Holy of Holies or Sanctuary. This construction gives one a very definite impression that every part of the temple was built to subserve a special object, viz., to limit the sunlight which fell on its front into a narrow beam,
and to carry it to the other extremity of the temple—into the sanctuary, where the high priest performed his functions. The sanctuary was always blocked. There is no case in which the beam of light can pass absolutely through a temple (Figs. 12 and 13).

FIG. 12.—The axis of the Temple of Karnak, looking south-east, from outside the north-west pylon (from a photograph by the author). FIG. 13.—Plan of the Temple of Ramses II. in the Memnonia at Thebes Lepsius), showing the pylon at the open end, the various doors along the axis, the sanctuary at the closed end, and the temple at right angles.

In Britain the case was different, there was neither skill nor workers sufficient to erect such stately piles, and as a consequence one structure had to do the work of several and it had to be done in the most economical way. Hence the circle with the observer at the centre and practically a temple axis in every direction among which could be chosen the chief directions required, each alignment being defined by stones, more or less distant, or openings in the circle itself.

Now for some particulars with regard to those parts of Stonehenge which lend themselves to the inquiry.

The main architecture of Stonehenge consisted of an external circle of about 100 feet in diameter, composed of thirty large upright stones, named sarsens, connected by continuous lintels. The upright stones formerly stood 14 feet above the surface of the ground. Then have nobs or tenons on the top which fit into mortice holes in the lintels. Within this peristyle there was originally an inner structure of ten still larger upright stones, arranged in the shape of a horseshoe, formed by five isolated trilithons which rose progressively from N.E. to S.W., the loftiest stones being 25 feet above the ground. About one-half of these uprights have fallen, and a still greater number of the imposts which they originally carried.

FIG 14.—One of the remaining Trilithons at Stonehenge

There is also another circle of smaller upright stones, respecting which the only point requiring notice now is that none of them would have interrupted the line of the axis of the avenue. The circular temple was also surrounded by the earthen bank, shown in Fig. 15, of about 300 feet in diameter, interrupted towards the north-east by receiving into itself the banks forming an avenue before mentioned; which is about 50 feet acres.



Within this avenue, no doubt an old via sacra, and looking north-east from the centre of the temple, at about 250 feet distance and considerably to the right hand of the axis, stands an isolated stone, which from a mediæval legend has been named the Friar's Heel.

FIG. 15.—General plan; the outer circle, naos and avenue of Stonehenge. F.H. = Friar's Heel.
Stonehenge Map

The axis passes very nearly centrally through an ... columniation (so to call it) between two uprights ... the external circle and between the uprights of the northernmost? trilithon as it originally stood. Of this ... on the southernmost upright with the lintel ... fell in 1620, but the companion survived as the leaning stone which formed a conspicuous and picturesque object for many years, but happily now restored to its original more dignified and safer condition of verticality. The inclination of this stone, however, took place in the direction of the axis of the avenue, and as the distance between it and its original companion is known both by the analogy of the two perfect trilithons and by the measure of the mortice holes on the lintel they formerly supported, we obtain by bisection the distance, 11 inches, from its edge, of a point in the continuation of the central axis of the avenue and temple.

The banks which form the avenue have suffered much degradation. It appears from Sir Richard Colt Hoare's account that at the beginning of the last century they were distinguishable for a much greater distance than at present, but they are still discernible, especially on the northern side, for more than 1300 feet from the centre of the temple, and particularly the line of the bottom of the ditch from which the earth was taken to form the bank, and which runs parallel to it.

Next Chapter: Chapter VII. Astronomical Observations at Stonehenge in 1901

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