National Museums of Scotland
A new look at the astronomy and geometry of Stonehenge
Recent authoritative work by Ruggles on whether there were significant astronomical and calendrical alignments built into Stonehenge in the 3rd millennium BC has concluded that the evidence for accurate alignments is minimal, and that there is none for sophisticated astronomical practices, nor for any kind of calendar. Whether sophisticated geometry was used in designing the site is not discussed. I will review the relevant evidence – previously discussed by Hawkins, Thom and Atkinson – in the light of both Atkinson’s accurate on-site surveys in 1978 and Hawkins’ photogrammetric survey. It will be argued that this data allow us to infer that important lunar and solar alignments were built into the rectangular formation of the Station Stones, and into the main axis of the site. Moreover, geometrical constructions – and the use of at least one standard length unit – have been postulated for the Station Stones and the sarsen circle, and these ideas too are investigated. It seems that these two aspects of prehistoric intellectual skills – astronomy and the calendar, and geometry – are closely interwoven at this site, and that this emerging picture has broad implications for Neolithic society.
Euan MacKie graduated in Archeology & Anthropology, (Cambridge 1959). He excavated Maya sites in the then British Honduras from 1959 to 60 and worked in the Hunterian Museum, University of Glasgow, as Curator of Archaeology and Anthropology from 1960 to 1998, and as deputy director for the last few years. He has a PhD (Glasgow 1974), an FSA and FSA (Scot). His research interests include the
early ethnographical collections of the Hunterian (particularly from Cook’s voyages), the Iron Age of Atlantic Scotland, especially the evolving material culture (and the question of whether it shows foreign
influences) and the drystone towers known as brochs. He has conducted several major excavations in this field. He has also conducted several small surveys into the problem of what level of skill in astronomy and geometry existed in Neolithic Britain. His bibliography includes over 120 items.