Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Neolithic Astronomy and Engineering: Humbling to a Modern Observer

Castlerigg Stone Circle

To a modern observer, the engineering and astronomical feats of the Neolithic peoples who lived in the British Isles five thousand years ago are humbling. They had no system for writing or for complex mathematical notation; nonetheless, they were able to record their observations of the sun and the moon as they moved across the sky in the course of a year. The Neolithic people lacked the wheel, but they were able to move large and heavy stones long distances and then precisely position them in large circles to mark the sunrise and sunset for important dates in their calendar. 

The enormity of these Neolithic accomplishments began to sink in after I visited the Castlerigg Stone Circle and started to wonder how these ancient peoples had built it, despite their daunting limitations.  

Castlerigg Stone Circle, located in the Cumbrian region of England, was built about 5,000 to 5,200 hundred years ago. Today, 38 of the original stones still stand in a slightly flatted circle that is 107 feet in diameter. The stones, which stand 3 to 5 feet high, 'were not worked or shaped in any way. They mark the position of the summer and winter solstices, Candlemas (the festival that celebrated the time to begin spring planting), and the setting of the most southerly and most nothernly moons.

Most of the stones are 3 to 5 feet high

Castlerigg Stone Circle predates the stone circles of Stonehenge by about 800 to 1,000 years. It is thought by many to be the oldest such circle in England and perhaps in Europe.

The Castelrigg Stone Circle also includes a unique feature: 10 stones form a rectangle at one end. Its purpose is unknown, as is the purpose of the circle itself. Scholars speculate that the site, as well as other stone circles, was used for trading, religious observations, and tribal gatherings. 

10 stones form a unique rectangle

Note: My observations were made during a trip to Great Britain, Italy and Southern France in June and July, 2011. I am posting them after my return to the U.S.

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