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Prehistoric Sites in Wales (1 of 5)

Prehistoric Sites in England (1 of 5)

Prehistoric Sites in Scotland (1 of 2)

Astronomical Alignments at Crick Barrow, Gwent

Archaeoastronomy in South Wales

Orientations of Neolithic Tombs in South Wales

Beltane/Lughnasa Alignments at Prehistoric Sites in UK & Ireland

Winter Solstice Alignments at Prehistoric Sites with Decorated Stones in UK & Ireland


Prehistoric Sites

with possible alignments towards

the Beltane/Lughnasa sunrise/sunset

by Martin J. Powell


Although prehistoric alignments towards the May Day/Lammas sunrise/sunset were suggested by Sir J. Norman Lockyer and F. C. Penrose as far back as 1901, it was Professor Alexander Thom who, in the 1960s, proposed an accurate and workable prehistoric calendar.  Based on evidence gleaned from his surveys of some 300 prehistoric sites, Thom proposed that the prehistoric year was divided into 16 roughly equal parts, or 'months', based primarily around the solstices and the equinoxes.

The cross-quarter days (also called mid-quarter days) mark the points mid-way in time between the solstices and the equinoxes.  These significant seasonal dates were celebrated by the Iron Age Celts of North-western Europe in the festivals of Imbolc (February), Beltane (May), Lughnasa (August) and Samhain (November).  Falling either side of the summer solstice, Thom defined the May Day/Lammas dates (i.e. Beltane/Lughnasa) as occurring when the Sun's declination was +16.67 0.14 (Thom 1967, 110).  In the current Gregorian calendar, this corresponds to dates around 6th-8th May for Beltane and 5th-7th August for Lughnasa (McCluskey 1989, S18).

The following table gives details of British and Irish sites dating from the later Neolithic and Bronze Age periods which are thought to include alignments towards May Day/Lammas.  There are undoubtedly many more candidate sites, however the ones listed here are known to have been accurately surveyed and the astronomy thoroughly assessed.  The alignments proposed by Thom are taken from Table 8.1 of his 1967 work.  His 'Class C' alignments, i.e. those with the poorest indications, are excluded from this list.

The book references shown in the 'Source' column are listed in the 'Bibliography' section below.

 Site

County

Site

Type

Grid

Reference

Alignment

Type

Source

Note

WALES

Crick Barrow

Monmouthshire

RB

 ST 484 902

CS

 Powell 1995, S49-S56

Article

Nant Tarw

Powys

SC

 SN 820 258

CC

 Thom 1967, 101 (W 11/4)

1

Moel ty Uchaf

Gwynedd

CC

 SJ 057 371

CC

 Thom 1967, 100 (W 5/1)

 

Penmaen-mawr (Druid's Circle)

Gwynedd

SC

 SH 723 746

CC

 Thom 1967, 100 (W 2/1)

Photo

ENGLAND

Stonehenge

Wiltshire

SC & H

SU 123 422

SS

 Burl 1987, 145-6

2

Long Meg & Her Daughters

Cumbria

SC

NY 571 372

CC

 Thom 1967, 99 (L 1/7)

3 (Photo)

Barbrook II

Derbyshire

SC

SK 277 758

AA

 Burl 1983, 40

4

Leaze

 Cornwall

SC

SX 137 773

CS

 Thom 1967, 100 (S 1/6)

 

Craddock Moor

Cornwall

SR

SX 239 720

A

 Burl 1993, 98

5

Stannon

Cornwall

SC

SX 125 800

IF

 Barnatt 1982, 74, 167-70

6

SCOTLAND

Sheldon of Bourtie

 Aberdeenshire

?RSC

NJ 823 249

CO

 Thom 1967, 98 (B 1/8)

 

Cauldside

 Dumfries & Galloway

SC

NX 530 571

IF

 Thom 1967, 98 (G 4/14)

 

Callanish VI

Lewis

SC

NB 247 304

CC

 Thom 1967, 98 (H 1/6)

 

Rueval Stone

South Uist

SS

NF 814 533

IF

 Thom 1967, 99 (H 4/4)

 

Ross of Mull

 Mull

SS

 NM 353 224

IF

 Thom 1967, 99 (M 2/6)

7

Learable Hill

 Sutherland

SC

NC 892 234

A

 Thom 1967, 100 (N 2/1)

 

IRELAND

Beltany Tops

Co. Donegal

SC

 C 254 003

SS

 Milligan & Burl 1999, 29

8

 

Site Type

 

SC - Stone Circle

H - Henge

SR - Stone Row

SS - Standing Stone

RB - Round Barrow

RSC - Recumbent Stone Circle

CC - Cairn-circle

 

 

Alignment Type

 

CC - Site (centre) to Site (centre)

SS - Stone to Stone

IF - Indicated Foresight (i.e. notch or cleft on horizon)

CS - Site (centre) to Stone

A - Alignment of Stones

CO - Site (centre) to Outlier

AA - Axial alignment

 

NOTES

1.  Thom refers to the site as 'Usk River'.

2.  Alignment is from Station Stone 91 to 93, two stones of a rectangle of 'Four Stations' positioned just inside the bank of the henge.  Today, Stone 91 is prostrate and Stone 93 survives only as a stump, though all four stones were originally upright.

3.  Alignment is from the geometrical centre of the flattened circle towards a cairn-circle known as 'Little Meg' 0.8 km distant (NY 576 374).

4.  Alignment suggested by Barnatt and cited in Burl, 1983.  The cist inside the circle has a cup-marked slab.

5.  Alignment suggested in Meyn Mamvro magazine in 1991 and cited in Burl, 1993.  The 244 metre long alignment of 85 stones ends at a cairn on Caradon Hill.

6.  Alignment is from the centre of the stone circle to sunrise over Rough Tor.

7.  Also known as Tirghoil standing stone.

8.  Alignment is from a tall menhir at the WSW of the stone circle to a cup-marked stone at the ENE of the circle.  The name 'Beltany' is derived from 'Beltane'.


Copyright  Martin J Powell  June 2003


BIBLIOGRAPHY

BARNATT, John

1982    Prehistoric Cornwall: The Ceremonial Monuments, Turnstone Press (Wellingborough).

 

BURL, Aubrey

1976    The Stone Circles of the British Isles, Yale University Press (New Haven & London).

1983    Prehistoric Astronomy and Ritual, Shire Publications (Aylesbury).

1987    The Stonehenge People, Barrie & Jenkins (London).

1993    From Carnac to Callanish: The Prehistoric Stone Rows and Avenues of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press (New Haven & London).

 

McCLUSKEY, Stephen C.

1989    'The Mid-Quarter Days and the Historical Survival of British Folk Astronomy' in the journal Archaeoastronomy, Vol. 20, No. 13, Science History Publications (Cambridge).

 

MILLIGAN, Max & BURL, Aubrey

1999    Circles of Stone: The Prehistoric Rings of Britain and Ireland, The Harvill Press (London).

 

POWELL, Martin J.

1995    'Astronomical Indications at a Bell-barrow in South Wales' in the journal Archaeoastronomy, Vol. 26, No. 20, Science History Publications (Cambridge).

 

THOM, Alexander

1967    Megalithic Sites in Britain, Oxford University Press (Oxford).


Aenigmatis

Prehistoric Sites

in Wales

Prehistoric Sites

in England

Prehistoric Sites

in Scotland

Archaeoastronomy

in South Wales

A Round Barrow

in Gwent

Neolithic Tombs

in South Wales


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