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Was Stonehenge an observatory?

  1. Aug 12, 2004 #1
    Three decades ago, Fred Hoyle wrote a book on the antique use of Stonehenge as an old observatory.
    But also a lot of pseudo-scientific literature was produced on Archaeoastronomy in general. It is plausible that if a great number of measures are taken, some of they can by chance suggest notable astronomical relationships,
    But, how many facts are true on Archaeoastronomy and on Stonehenge in particular?
    If Stonehenge was in some form an observatory,as Hoyle purposed, what would have been its resolution power?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 12, 2004 #2


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    Stonehenge may have been an observatory, and it would not have been too difficult to lay it out to serve that purpose. Most popular accounts concentrate on the difficulties in calculating astronomical events, arranging the alignments of the stones, etc. The truth is, using stable observing point(s), it would be possible to arrange closely arrayed series of vertical poles (or hanging plumbs, pick your favorite) and designate which of them corresponded to your observation of a significant astronomical event, mark them, and then to erect a stone or stones at that point at a later time. The significant problems are not in observation and measurement (which are pretty easy with a long-enough baseline) but in the engineering involved in erecting the final structure. Those are some pretty big stones!

    The druids were long-range thinkers and great engineers. The astronomical observations and indexing of the monument would have been the trivial part.
  4. Aug 12, 2004 #3


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    I think you're being deceived by the use of the word "observatory". Although this word usually means a facility with a telescope (and certainly no modern observatory would be complete without one), no magnifying device is required for a place to be called by that name. Stonehenge is thought to be a place set up to observe the stars. This observation would have been done with the naked eye, in those days.

    Unless, of course, you were just joking, in which case I just made myself look like the proverbial village Schmendric.*

    *No offense intended to any reader actually named Schmendric.
  5. Aug 13, 2004 #4
    One of the few things that I know is the meaning of the term "observatory".
    On the contrary, I dont' know anything about Schemndric.
    I don't joke here.
  6. Aug 13, 2004 #5
    I had believed that in the potential astronomical usefulness of Stonehenge, a main play was played by the Aubrey's circle, with some additional marks, being the construction of megalithic structure a secondary fact.
    Was I wrong?
  7. Aug 13, 2004 #6
    if it was an observatory, it must have been a preety crappy one.
  8. Aug 13, 2004 #7


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    The Celts only date back to 500 BC, Stonehenge dates back anywhere from 1,700 - 3,500 BC, which is why it is believed that the Druids (Celtic Priests) just adopted the already existing site. No one knows for certain who built Stonehenge or why.
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2005
  9. Aug 13, 2004 #8
    I am afraid you are incorrect:Around 1500-1000BC, the Celts lived in an area which today is mostly in Eastern France.

    There may be a connection with ancient soothsayers from Egypt, the Druids, 'Celts', are believed to be decendants of Egyptian Mystics, which is where they adopted the Egyptian Burial practice, marked with a 'stone', which depicts the transitition from Life to Death (Burial chamber made from Stone[Pyramid]) and to ground Valley of Kings.

    The 'Stone' as a marker within a 'Henge'. Henge=[A prehistoric monument in Britain and Ireland consisting of Circles of wood or stone enclosed by a Bank].

    Stonehenge, the famous one, was Geometric's based on the same as Pyramids in Egypt, but where-as the Pyramid base is a Square, the Stonehenge is Circular.

    The base stones of pyramids are of the same Geometrics as the blue stones
    of Avebury!

    Take the base foundational stones from the Giza pyramid, and you can arrange them into a Stonehenge.
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2004
  10. Aug 13, 2004 #9


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    The earliest timeline I've seen possible for Celts in Britain was 800 BC, with 500 BC being the first solid written & archeaological evidence of entrenched occupation.

    The Celts are believed to be Indo-European and possibly have migrated from the Russian Steppes, not Egypt. You can see this in their migration across Europe.

    Here is a timeline for Brittain.

  11. Aug 13, 2004 #10


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    Evo is most ceratinly correct the Druids could not of built stonehenge, as the Celts had not arrived in Great Britain by that time. Infact AFAIK there's not much evidence of the druidic class outside of Ireland, tho' I may be wrong.

    Stonehenge was built by English Heritage as a crappy tourist trap, if you want to see the 'hard stuff' go to Avebury.
  12. Aug 13, 2004 #11


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    You're both right, of course. I tossed off the "Druid" statement because of the popular attribution. The Druids appear to have been more connected to the arboreal world and probably would have used the ancient site as a matter of convenience and local tradition. The construction of Stonehenge occured in stages over a very long period of time, and it's amazing that a society could have constructed it without leaving lots of more enduring artifacts. The Egyptians built some really great stuff, but of course, they valued writing and the accumulation, preservation, and transfer of information, and they left a lot of information about their societies. The early residents of Salisbury have left nothing of this magnitude. They had long-term plans and goals and they had the cooperation of MANY groups of people over a long period of time to build this monument. We may never know what held this group together, but it had to be VERY important to them.
  13. Aug 13, 2004 #12


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    Some of the Stonehenge alignments are quite clear (e.g. heel stone and summer solstice); what was the builders' purpose for making such an alignment? I doubt we'll ever know.

    BTW, I thought it was Gerald Hawkins, not Fred Hoyle, who proposed Stonehenge as an astronomical calculator (not an observatory).

    Who among PF readers has been to Stonehenge?
  14. Aug 13, 2004 #13
    Yes. It was Gerald Hawkins who firstly proposed Stonehenge as an astronomical tool. He first published his findings in the article, "Stonehenge Decoded," in "Nature" in 1963, and then in a book with the same title in 1965. After (1972), Fred Hoyle wrote his book "From Stonehenge to Modern Cosmology" where he reinforces the usefulness of Stonehenge as an astronomical observatory. Hoyle uses this term: "observatory". Effectively, although Stonehenge would served as calculator, the data would be also observed in Stonehenge.
  15. Aug 13, 2004 #14


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    Your timeline indicates the stone circle time is 2300-1500BC
    and the Celtic (Druid) time is 500BC-500AD
    I have always had a hard time remembering things like this so I am very glad you put the link to the the timeline.

    ----bits from Evo's timeline---

    c.2300 - Construction begun on Britain's largest stone circle at Avebury.

    c.2000 - Metal objects are widely manufactured in England about this time, first from copper, then with arsenic and tin added; woven cloth appears in Britain, evidenced by findings of pins and cloth fasteners in graves; construction begun on Stonehenge's inner ring of bluestones.

    c.1800-1200 - Control of society passes from priests to those who control the manufacture of metal objects.

    c.1500 - ... stone circles seem to fall into disuse and decay around this time, ...

    c.1200-1000 - Emergence of a warrior class who now begins to take a central role in society.

    c.600 - Iron replaces bronze, Iron Age begins; construction of Old Sarum begun.

    c.500 - Evidence of the spread of Celtic customs and artefacts across Britain; more and varied types of pottery in use, more characteristic decoration of jewelry. There was no known invasion of Britain by the Celts; they probably gradually infiltrated into British society through trade and other contact over a period of several hundred years; Druids, the intellectual class of the Celts (their own word for themselves, meaning "the hidden people"), begin a thousand year floruit.
    -----end quote from timeline---

    have to go, will be back to think about this
    some interesting things
    also, who were the people, what linguistic group?
  16. Aug 13, 2004 #15


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    Just recently the archeologists have been finding graves of people who may have been associated with the building of Stonehenge. A year or so ago they uncovered the burial of an individual, provided with very rich grave goods, who is termed "the Archer" because he had a wrist guard and (I believe) some arrow points. Analysis showed that the Archer came from the Swiss region of Europe! Then just this year they found remains of another individual, who has been identified as coming from Wales. So it was quite the little international project. Remember, there are stone circles and alignments on the coast of Europe too.
  17. Aug 13, 2004 #16


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  18. Aug 13, 2004 #17


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    Yes, they have also found numerous cremations, I was just reading about that.
  19. Aug 13, 2004 #18
    Evo, for clarity I was stating that the Celts were allready in existence in mainland Europe, but your timeline of 'actual' evidence of Celtic heritage is correct.

    Evidence is mounting that the coast of France and Britain were connected by Islands, coupled with the fact that the English/French channel was shallower, and the obvious tribal population was pretty scarce, Celts could travel from northern France onto mainland Britain with a lot more ease than 'we' could today!
  20. Aug 14, 2004 #19


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    I've been Stonehenge, as I said before Avebury (or even Dartmoor) is much better for neolithic.

    I think it's not exactly universally eaccepted that the Beaker people came from Iberia and another thing to note is that it's probably bestto talk of Beaker culture as the Beaker people did not necessarily have the same ethnic orgins (indeed this goes for the Celts too, because a group is a memebr of Celtic culture it does not necessarily mean that they are mainly descended from the Celts).

    There is infact very little evidnce for the Celts anywhere before 600BC and most evidence poitns to them coming from Germany, so I repeat they had nothing to do with the building of Stonehenge.
  21. Aug 14, 2004 #20
    Yes. The "Archbury Archer".
    The magazine Der Spiegel published some interesting articles on this question. On of them was entitled "Ist Stonehenge ein Steinhenge?" (11-Feb-2003), joking with the change of "stone" for its german equivalent "Stein"
    Recently, the Nebra disc, (1600 BC) supports the existence of solid astronomical knowledge in Europe.
    I thing that the following links may be interesting for the discussion:
    With independence of that, I see that discussion in this thread have derived from my first question about "What?" to discuss about "Who?" Curious and interesting
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