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The 5,000 year-old holed stone recently discovered in Sicily. It is thought that the sun would shine through the man-made hole and mark the winter solstice
Image credit Giuseppe La Spina
 
Writing for Live Science,  Rossella Lorenzi reports that –
 
Italian archaeologists have found an intriguing Stonehenge-like “calendar rock” in Sicily. Featuring a 3.2-foot diameter hole, the rock formation marked the beginning of winter some 5,000 years ago.
 
“It appeared clear to me that we were dealing with a deliberate, man-made hole,” archaeologist Giuseppe La Spina told Seeker. “However, we needed the necessary empirical evidence to prove the stone was used as a prehistoric calendar to measure the seasons.”
 
Full article here.
 
 

 

The Hurlers, Bodmin Moor, Cornwall
©
The Heritage Trust

 

 
 
Standing stones in the south-west quadrant of the Avebury stone circle
©
Littlestone
 
What has long been suspected, that the earliest stone monuments in Britain were built with astronomy in mind, has now been proven. Writing in the NewHistorian, Daryl Worthington reports that –
 
Through innovative use of 2D and 3D technology, researchers from the University of Adelaide have statistically proven that spectacular stone circles constructed up to 500 years before Stonehenge, were deliberately built in line with the movement of the Sun and Moon.
 
The findings, published last week in the Journal of Archaeological Science, give fresh insight into the relationships ancient Britons held with the sky; connecting the earth to astronomical phenomena through spectacular monuments.
 
“Nobody before this has ever statistically determined that a single stone circle was constructed with astronomical phenomena in mind – it was all supposition,” said project leader and University of Adelaide Visiting Research Fellow Dr Gail Higginbottom, who is also a Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian National University.
 
Callanish, on the Isle of Lewis, and Stenness, Isle of Orkney; are the oldest stone circles in Scotland, built during the late Neolithic over 5000 years ago. It has long been thought that the megaliths were laid out to reflect the cosmos, but the quantitative tests carried out by the team on the patterns of alignment of the standing stones have finally provided convincing evidence that this was indeed the case.
 
More here.
 
 
The Hurlers Stone Circle. The Cheesewring formation is just visible on the skyline
©
The Heritage Trust
 
The Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation (ICG) wound up the Royal Astronomical Society National Astronomy Meeting yesterday (26 June 2014) in Portsmouth, England. The meeting was held jointly at Guildhall and the University of Portsmouth Park and King Henry Buildings, and was sponsored by the RAS, STFC, SEPnet and Winton Capital. Of interest to archaeologists and researchers of prehistoric monuments was a discussion of –
 
…a developing field of research that merges astronomical techniques with the study of ancient man-made features and the surrounding landscapes… From the ‘Crystal Pathway’ that links stone circles on Cornwall’s Bodmin Moor to star-aligned megaliths in central Portugal, archaeo-astronomers are finding evidence that Neolithic and Bronze Age people were acute observers of the Sun, as well as the Moon and stars, and that they embedded astronomical references within their local landscapes.
 
“There’s more to archaeo-astronomy than Stonehenge,” says Dr Daniel Brown of Nottingham Trent University, who [presented] updates on his work on the 4000-year-old astronomically aligned standing stone at Gardom’s Edge in the UK’s Peak District. “Modern archaeo-astronomy encompasses many other research areas such as anthropology, ethno-astronomy and even educational research. It has stepped away from its speculative beginnings and placed itself solidly onto the foundation of statistical methods.  However, this pure scientific approach has its own challenges that need to be overcome by embracing humanistic influences and putting the research into context with local cultures and landscape.”
 
 
The Crystal Pavement during excavation last year showing the original reddish ground surface beyond it
©
Roy Goutté
 
Brian Sheen and Gary Cutts of the Roseland Observatory have worked together with Jacky Nowakowski, of Cornwall Council’s Historic Environment Service, to explore an important Bronze Age astro-landscape extending over several square miles on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. At its heart lie Britain’s only triple stone circles, The Hurlers, of which two are linked by the 4000-year-old granite pavement, dubbed the Crystal Pathway. The team has confirmed that Bronze Age inhabitants used a calendar controlled by the movements of the Sun. The four cardinal points are marked together with the solstices and equinoxes.
 
 
The Pipers
©
The Heritage Trust
 
“The Pipers are standing stone outliers to the main circles. When standing between the stones, one to the right and the other to the left, one looks north & south; when lining both up, one faces east & west,” says Sheen.  “We also think the three circles that comprise The Hurlers monument may be laid out on the ground to resemble Orion’s Belt. Far from being three isolated circles on the moor they are linked into one landscape.”
 
Read the full Royal Astronomical Society’s press release here. See also our earlier feature, The Hurlers: Mapping the Sun event and the ‘Crystal’ Pavement. Update 2 by Roy Goutté here.
   

The Trefael Stone

BBC News South West Wales reports yesterday that a ritual burial site in Pembrokeshire may have been in use 10,000 years ago – almost twice as far back as expected –

The Trefael Stone near Nevern was reclassified as a Stone Age burial chamber after its capstone was studied. But a three-year dig [headed Dr George Nash] has since found beads dating back much further, perhaps to the Neolithic or Mesolithic periods.

For centuries the Trefael standing stone was largely disregarded as just one of hundreds of similar Bronze Age monuments. Yet closer analysis of its distinctive cup marks now indicate that they loosely match the pattern of stellar constellations. This would only make sense if, rather than standing upright, it had originally been laid flat as a capstone which would have once been supported by a series of upright stones.

Dr Nash believes the Trefael Stone in fact topped a Neolithic burial chamber, probably a portal dolmen, which is one of western Britain’s earliest burial monument types. “Many years ago Trefael was considered just a simple standing stone lying in a windswept field, but the excavation programme has proved otherwise,” he said. “It suggests that Trefael once lay in the heart of a ritualised landscape that was in operation for at least 5-6,000 years.

Full article here. See also the Welsh Rock-art Organization (WRAO) and our earlier features here and here.

 

Video Heritage Channel of Korea

According to Wikipedia –

Cheomseongdae (첨성대)  is an astronomical observatory in Gyeongju, South Korea. Cheomseongdae means star-gazing tower in Korean. Cheomseongdae is the oldest surviving observatory in East Asia. It dates to the 7th century to the time of kingdom of Silla, which had its capital in Gyeongju. Cheomseongdae was designated as the country’s 31st national treasure on December 20, 1962.

A Ten Won Korean banknote showing the 1,300 year-old Cheomseongdae observatory

Rummaging through some old papers this morning I came across the banknote above which I‘d saved from a trip to Korea some forty years ago. It jolted my memory of Cheomseongdae (shown on the left of the banknote) which I’d visited back then and thought the attached video might be of interest to some of your readers.

LS

The 5,000 year-old Poulnabrone dolmen, Burren, County Clare, Ireland
Source Wikipedia. Image credit Kglavin

Ashleigh Murszewski, writing in The Heritage Daily at the end of last year, asks –

What was the significance of Megalithic Monuments in Atlantic Europe?
 
The construction of megalithic monuments in Atlantic Europe is not restricted to a single purpose, nor do they reflect one aspect of the community that built them. Contrarily, they give well-rounded evidence for practical and symbolic components of the early agricultural lifestyle within the Neolithic. Depictions in the architecture of these structures explore complex symbolism and the socio-ritual interactions where monuments offer places for gatherings. Furthermore, megaliths demonstrate understandings of geometrical and astronomical knowledge in society that was not thought to be established for centuries.
 
Megalithic monuments of Atlantic Europe have long attracted attention from those who are interested in the early past of mankind. The word megalith originates from the Greek, meaning ‘great stone’ and is used when describing stone structures set upright in the Earth dated from 5000 to 500 BC in Atlantic Europe (Balter, 1993).
 
These massive stone structures consist of some of the most famous and visually spectacular archaeological discoveries in the world and signify extensive technical ingenuity and organisation that would be essential to their construction. Their significance is also connected with the development and establishment of the first farming communities in the Neolithic, where their craftsmanship reflects the establishment of territorialism and community identity.
 
Full article here.
 
 
Subhashis Das at the megalithic site of Rola
 
Subhashis Das was born on 16 July 1956 in the State of Assam, North East India. He attended St. Xavier’s School, Hazaribagh, in the State of Jharkhand, East India. Subhashis graduated in history from St. Columba’s College, Hazaibagh, University of Ranchi. He obtained a Bachelor of Education degree from Annamalai University and subsequently worked in marketing for 25 years. Although Subhashis was not particularly interested in megaliths to begin with, general history, ancient races and civilisations, Indian tribes and their ancient myths interest him immensely. A sudden discovery of  a dolmen near his hometown changed him altogether and he left his job to become a full-time ‘megalith explorer’. To support himself during these activities he served as a principal in a high school for some 10 years.
 
His first book, Sacred Stones in Indian Civilization was published in 2009 and is the first book detailing megaliths in his home state of Jharkhand, and one of the first of its kind published in India. His next book, The Unknown Prehistory of Primitive India, is slated to be released in July or August 2013 and will include a few complimentary pages by Dr Terence Meaden. Subhashis Das’ website, Megaliths of India is the only one of its kind in the country and was created in August 2010.  Subhashis once engaged in professional music and played the guitar; age, however, ‘taking the better of me’ as he puts it, he is now more involved with the spiritual songs of Rabindranath Tagore (known as Rabindra sangeet). He is also interested in spiritualism itself, photography, writing poems and also loves to sketch. In his own words he will, “Walk miles with the wind on me. Walking in the rain or under the blue sky. Enjoying the sunshine, the call of the doves, talking to myself and meditating.”
 
Among his other accomplishments, Subhashis Das has discovered countless primitive megaliths across India, many of which are his own study sites. 16 years ago he found that not all megaliths were used for sepulchral purposes but that many were created for astronomical observations, and even to function as calendars. About the same time he discovered the astronomical significance of the megaliths of Punkri Burwadih, and also that the monument was used to observe the equinoxes and the summer solstice sunrises. He revived the ancient tradition of equinox viewing at this megalithic complex. Hundreds of people from all over the country gather to view the equinox sunrises at Punkri Burwadih twice every year, thus making Punkri Burwadih the only megalithic site in India used today for this phenomenon.
 
For a sample of Subhashis Das’ contributions to The Heritage Trust please enter Subhashis Das in our search box at the top of this page.
 
 

The equinox sun rising between two menhirs at Punkri Burwadih, India
©
Subhashis Das

For a full report on the restoration of the fallen menhir of Punkri Burwadih see our earlier report by Subhashis Das here.

 

 
 
The Avebury World Heritage Site looking west from the south-east quadrant
©
The Heritage Trust
UNESCO reports that –
 
 
Created in 2003 within the framework of the Global Strategy for the balanced, representative and credible World Heritage List, as a pilot activity for the identification of the sites connected with astronomy, the Thematic Initiative on Astronomy and World Heritage, aims to establish a link between Science and Culture towards recognition of the monuments and sites connected with astronomical observations dispersed throughout all the geographical regions, not only scientific but also the testimonies of traditional community knowledge.
 

This Initiative offers to the States Parties a possibility to evaluate and recognize the importance of this specific heritage, in terms of enrichment of the history of humanity, the promotion of cultural diversity and the development of international exchanges.

It provides an opportunity not only to identify the sites connected with astronomy but also of keeping their memory alive and preserving them from progressive deterioration, through the inscription on the World Heritage List of the most representative properties.

Why “Astronomy” and World Heritage”

The sky, our common and universal heritage, forms an integral part of the total environment that is perceived by mankind. Including the interpretation of the sky as a theme in World Heritage is a logical step towards taking into consideration the relationship between mankind and its environment. This step is necessary for the recognition and safeguarding of cultural properties and of cultural or natural landscapes that transcribe the relationship between mankind and the sky.

More here. See also the Portal to the Heritage of Astronomy website which offers a, “…new integrated web portal for the Astronomy and World Heritage Initiative, launched on August 24, 2012…”
 

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