Ancient ObservatoriesLast Updated on 2008-06-11 00:00:00
There is an astronomical context for understanding mysterious structures like Stonehenge. Keeping a calendar was a vital job for any ancient culture. We can imagine that an enormous effort would be put into measuring and marking the changing seasons. In the absence of true understanding, we can also imagine that these structures would have a ceremonial purpose. Today, most astronomers and archaeologists agree that Stonehenge was built as a marker or ceremonial site, dedicated to observing the date of summer solstice. The avenue points from the center of Stonehenge to the position of sunrise on June 21st. Someone standing in the center of Stonehenge could see the Sun rise over a big stone, called the heel stone, on the day of solstice. (The mysterious name, "heel stone," may have come in ancient times from the Greek root, helios, for Sun.) Still more astronomical purposes have been... More »
StonehengeLast Updated on 2008-06-11 00:00:00
Mysterious rings of upright stones dot the hills and dales of England. The most famous is a monument called Stonehenge, which many people know only as a ring of giant stones standing silently in an ancient field. Few people realize that other prehistoric structures abound in the nearby landscape. For example, a broad "avenue" lined by earthen banks leads out of Stonehenge across the plains for about 1/2 kilometer (1/3 mile) toward the northeast. What was the purpose of such enigmatic features? In the Middle Ages, people believed that King Arthur's magician, Merlin, built them. Others attributed them to ancient wise men called Druids. In the 1720s, a lone scholar named William Stuckley visited many of the ancient monuments and made careful drawings of these prehistoric wonders. Stuckley was the first person to record a curious fact. The avenue leading from the center of Stonehenge... More »
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