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Stonehenge and Other British Stone Monuments Astronomically Considered 


by Norman Lockyer

   Mystic Realms        Stonehenge




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MY inquiries began at Merrivale because there is a circle associated with the avenues a little to the south of the west end of the longest; and again nearly, or quite, south of this there is a fine menhir, possibly used to give a north-south line. There is another menhir given on the Ordnance map, azimuth N. 70° 30´ E., which, with hills 3° high, points out roughly the place of sunrise from the circle in May (April 29). Although this stone has been squared and initialed, I think I am justified in claiming it as an ancient monument. There is still another, azimuth N. 83 E., giving a line from the circle almost parallel to the avenue. I hope some local archaeologist will examine it, for if ancient it will tell. us whether the N. avenue or the circle was built first, a point of which it is difficult to overrate the importance, as it will show the strict relationship between the astronomy of the avenues and that of the circle, and we can now, I think, deal with the astronomical use of circles after the results obtained at Stonehenge, Stenness and the Hurlers as an accepted fact. With the above approximate values the date comes out 1750 B.C., the declination of the Pleiades being N. 6° 35´.

I now pass on from Merrivale as an example of those avenues the direction of which lies somewhere in the E.-W. direction. Others which I have not seen, given by Rowe, are at Assacombe, Drizzlecombe and Trowlesworthy to these Mr. Worth adds Harter or Har Tor (or Black Tor).

The avenues which lie nearly N. and S. are more numerous. Rowe gives the following:—Fernworthy, Challacombe, Trowlesworthy, Stalldon Moor, Battendon, Hook Lake, and Tristis Rock. Of these I have visited the first two, as well as one on Shovel Down not named by Rowe, and the next two I have studied on the 6-inch Ordnance map.

Fernworthy (lat. 50° 38´).—Here are two avenues, one with azimuth N. 15° 45´ E., hills 1° 15´. There is a sighting stone at the N. end. We appear to be dealing with Arcturus as clock-star 1610 B. C. This is about the date of the erection of the N. avenue at Merrivale.

The second avenue has its sighting stone built into a wall at the south end. Looking south along the avenue, the conditions are azimuth S. 8° 42´ W., hills 3° 30´.

Both, these avenues are aligned on points within, but not: at the centre of, the circle.

Challacombe (lat. 50° 36´).—This is a case of a triple avenue, probably the remains of eight rows, in a depression between two hills, Challacombe Down and Warrington. There is no circle. The azimuth is 23° 37´ N.W. or S.E., according to direction. The northern end has been destroyed by an old stream work; there is no blocking stone to the south on either of the remaining avenues; but one large menhir terminates one row of stones. The others may have been removed. So it is probable that the alignment was to the north. If so, we are dealing with the setting of Arcturus, warning the summer solstice sunrise in 1860 B.C. To the S. the hills are 4° 48´, to the N. 4° 50´.

To this result some importance must be attached, first, because it brings us into presence of the cult of the solstitial year, secondly, because it shows us that the system most in vogue in Brittany was introduced in relation to that year. In Brittany, as I have before shown, the complicated alignments, there are 11 parallel rows at Le Ménac (p. 99) (there were 8 parallel rows at Challacombe), were set up to watch the May and August sunrises, and the solstitial alignments came afterwards. The Brittany May alignments, therefore, were probably used long before 1860 B.C., the date we have found for Challacombe, where not the sunrise but the setting star which gave warning of it was observed.

It is worth while to point out that at Challacombe, as elsewhere, the priest-astronomers so
located their monuments that the nearly circumpolar stars which were so useful to them should rise over an horizon of some angular height. In this way the direction-lines would be available for a longer period of time, for near the north point the change of azimuth with change in the declination of the star observed is very rapid.

FIG. 45.—The remains of the eight rows of the Challacombe Avenue. Looking North of East. Terminal Menhir on the extreme right.

Shovel Down, near Batworthy (lat. 50° 39´ 20").—A group of five rows of stones, four double, one single, with two sets of azimuths.

One set gives az. 22°, 25°, and 28°. They seem to be associated. I will call them A, B, and C. A is directed, to the circle on Godleigh Common. Its ends are free. B is a single line of stones to the E. of the triple circle, about which more presently. It is not marked on the Ordnance map; its ends are also free. C has its south end blocked, I think in later times, by a kistvaen. The astronomical direction may be, therefore, either N.W. or S.E. We find a probable use in the N.W. quadrant, as at Challacombe, Arcturus setting at daybreak as a warner of the summer solstice.

The height of hills is 46´; we have then:—

Azimuth N. Dec. Star. Date.
N. 22° W. 36° 19´ 40" Arcturus 1210 B.C.
N. 25° W. 35° 23´ 20" Arcturus 1040 B.C.
N. 28° W. 34° 19´ 30" Arcturus 850 B.C.

Adjacent to A, B, C, is another avenue, which I will call D. Unlike the others, its northern end points 2° E. of N. Its southern end is blocked by a remarkable triple circle, the end of the avenue close to it being defined by two tall terminal stones. We are justified, then, in thinking that its orientation was towards the north; the height of the horizon 1 measured as 45´. may have been an attempt to mark the N. point of the horizon.

The triple circle to which I have referred is not an ordinary circle. I believe it to be a later added, much embellished, cairn. According to Ormerod, the diameters are 26, 20, and 3 feet, and there are three small stones at the centre.

All the above avenues are on the slope of the hill to the north. On the south slope we find the longest of all, as shown on the Ordnance map survey of 1885. There is a "long stone" in its centre, and at the southern end was formerly a cromlech, the "three boys." Part of this avenue, and two of the three "boys," have been taken to build a wall. The long stone remains, because it is a boundary stone!

The azimuth is 2° 30´ W. of north or E. of south. Looking N. from the long stone, the height of the horizon is 2° 30´. I think this avenue was an attempt to mark the S. point.

Trowlesworthy (lat. 50° 27´ 30?).—The remains here are most interesting. This is the only monument on Dartmoor in which I have so far traced any attempt to locate the sun's place at rising either for the May or solstitial year. But I will deal with the N.-S. avenue first, as it is this feature which associates it with Fernworthy and Challacombe.

As at Merrivale, the avenue has a decided "kink" or change of direction. The facts as gathered from the 6-inch map are as follows:—


  Azimuth Hills. Dec. N. Star. Date.
S. part of Avenue N. 7° E. 2° 52´ 41° 29´10" Arcturus 2130 B.C.
N. part of Avenue N. 12° E. 2° 52´ 41° 6´ 20" Arcturus 2080 B.C.

This date is very nearly that of the use of the S. circle at the Hurlers, and it is early for Dartmoor; but it is quite possible that local observations on an associated avenue a little to the west of the circle which terminates the N.-S. avenue will justify it. This is not far from parallel to that at Merrivale, but its northern azimuth is greater, so that if it turns out to have been aligned on the Pleiades its date will be some time before that of Merrivale, that is, before 1580 B.C. I can say nothing more about it till I have visited it.

FIG. 46.—The sight-lines at Trowlesworthy, showing high northern azimuths.
From the Ordnance map.

The new features to which I have referred are two tumuli which in all probability represent more recent additions to the original scheme of observation, as we have found at Stenness, and show that Trowlesworthy was for long one of the chief. centres of worship on Dartmoor. Their azimuths are S. 64° E. and S. 49° W., dealing, therefore, with the May year sunrises, in November and February and the solstitial sunset in December. It is probable that, as at the Hurlers, tumuli were used instead of stones not earlier than 1900 B.C.

Stalldon Moor (lat. 50° 27´ 45") I have already incidentally referred to. The azimuth of the stone row as it leaves the circle, not from its centre as I read the 6-inch map, is N. 3° E.; as the azimuth gradually increases for a time, we may be dealing with Arcturus, but local observation is necessary.

The differences between the Cornish and Dartmoor monuments give much food for thought, and it is to be hoped that they will be carefully studied by future students of orientation, as so many questions are suggested. I will refer to some of them.

(1) Are the avenues, chiefly consisting of two rows of stones, a reflection of the sphinx avenues of Egypt? and, if so, how can the intensification of them on Dartmoor be explained?

(2) Was there a double worship going on in the avenues and the circles at the same time? If not, why were the former not aligned on the circles? On a dead level, of course, if the avenues were aligned on the centre of the circle towards the rising or setting of the sun or a star, the procession in the via sacra would block the view of those in the circle. We have the avenue at Stonehenge undoubtedly aligned on the centre of the circle, but there the naos was on an eminence, so that the procession in the avenue was always below the level of the horizon, and so did not block the view.

(3) Do all the cairns and cists in the avenues represent later additions, so late, indeed, that they may have been added after the avenues had ceased to be used for ceremonial purposes? The cairn at nearly the central point of the S. avenue at Merrivale was certainly not there as a part of the structure when the avenue was first used as a via sacra for observing the rising of the Pleiades. I have always held that these ancient temples, and even their attendant long and chambered barrows, were for the living and not for the dead, and this view has been strengthened by what 1 have observed on Dartmoor.

There was good reason for burials after the sacred nature of the spot had been established, and they may have taken place at any time since; the most probable time being after 1000 B.C. up to a date as recent as archæologists may consider probable.

Mr. Worth, whose long labours on the Dartmoor avenues give such importance to his opinions, objects to the astronomical use of those avenues because there are so many of them; he informs me that he knows of 50; I think this objection may be considered less valid if the avenues show that they were dedicated to different uses, some practical and others sacred, at different times of the year. For instance, Challacombe is not a duplicate of Merrivale; one is solstitial, the other deals with the May year; and a complete examination of them—I have only worked on the fringe—may show other differences having the same bearing. In favour of the astronomical view it must be borne in mind that the results obtained in Devon and Cornwall are remarkably similar, and the dates are roughly the same. Among the whole host of heaven from which objectors urge it is free for me to select any star I choose, at present only six stars have been considered, two of which were certainly used, as in Egypt, as clock-stars as they just dipped below the northern horizon, and other two afterwards at Athens; and these six stars are shown by nothing more recondite than an inspection of a precessional globe to have been precisely the stars, the "morning stars," wanted by the priest-astronomers who wished to be prepared for the instant of sunrise at the critical points of the May or solstitial year.

Next Chapter: Chapter XVII. Stanton Drew

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