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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 decorated stones and possible

Winter Solstice alignments

by Martin J. Powell


The standing stone known as Long Meg stands beside a stone circle in Cumbria known as the Daughters. Seen from the centre of the circle, it marked the setting position of the midwinter Sun

In the Northern hemisphere, the winter solstice occurs when the Sun reaches its most Southerly point along the ecliptic (the Sun's apparent path through the constellations). This is the shortest day of the year and the official commencement of winter (in the Southern hemisphere this is the summer solstice, i.e. its longest day and the official commencement of summer).

Due to an effect called precession of the equinoxes, whereby the Earth's axis 'wobbles' in space, in prehistoric times the Sun's declination had a slightly greater value at midwinter (and midsummer) than it does today.  The sites listed here are thought to date from the later Neolithic and Bronze Age periods in Britain and Ireland, at which time the Sun's declination at midwinter was around -23.91.  In the current Gregorian calendar, the winter solstice in the Northern hemisphere takes place on 21st or 22nd December.

Whilst the interpretation of decorated stones remains under debate, the following sites, together with those containing alignments to other significant calendar dates, provide some evidence to support the theory that in certain instances they may have held an astronomical symbolism.

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

Harold's Stones

Monmouthshire

SR

SO 499 051

A3

Burl 1993, 256-7

1 (Photo)

ENGLAND

Long Meg & Her Daughters

Cumbria

SC

NY 570 372

CO

 Thom 1967, 99 (L 1/7)

2 (Photo)

Duddo Four Stones

Northumberland

SC

NT 930 437

CS

Milligan & Burl 1999, 184

3

SCOTLAND

Rothiemay

 Aberdeenshire

RSC

NJ 551 487

CS

Burl 1976, 179

4

Loanhead of Daviot

 Aberdeenshire

RSC

NJ 747 288

CS

Milligan & Burl 1999, 42

5

Brainport Bay

 Argyll

SS

NR 976 951

IF

Ruggles 1999, 29-34

6

Ballymeanoch

 Argyll

SR

NR 833 964

A

Burl 1993, 175, 248

7

Balnuaran of Clava

Inverness-shire

CC

NH 757 443

P

Milligan & Burl 1999, 80

8

Monzie

Perthshire

KC

NN 882 243

CO

Burl 1976, 197-8

9

IRELAND

Drombeg

County Cork

RSC

W 247 352

CO

Burl 1976, 222

10

 Site Type

SC - Stone Circle

SS - Stone Setting

SR - Stone Row

RB - Round Barrow

RSC - Recumbent Stone Circle

CC - Clava Cairn (passage-grave)

KC - Kerb-Cairn

 

Alignment Type

CS - Site (centre) to Stone

P - Line along tumulus passage

CO - Site (centre) to Outlier

A - Alignment of stones

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

A3 - Alignment with 3 stones

In addition to the above sites, the following stone circle variants, known as 'Four-Posters', also contain cup-marked stones in their South-easterly or South-westerly quadrant, which may have served as indicators of the midwinter sunrise or sunset.  However, the astronomy of these sites has not yet been fully assessed (Ruggles 1999, 157).  Because of the small sizes of these sites, the precision level of the proposed astronomical alignments is likely to be considerably less than the majority of those listed above.  

 Site

County

Grid

Reference

Quadrant of

Cupmarked

stone

Source

Note

WALES

Four Stones

Powys

SO 245 608

SW

Burl 1976, 371

 11

ENGLAND

The Goatstones

Northumberland

NY 829 747

SE

Burl 1976, 194, 285-6

12

SCOTLAND

Balkemback

 Angus

NO 382 384

SE

Burl 1976, 354

 

Carse Farm I

 Perthshire

NN 802 487

SE & NE

Burl 1976, 362

13

Cramrar

Perthshire

NN 725 455

SE

Burl 1976, 362

 

Lundin Farm

Perthshire

NN 882 505

SE

Milligan & Burl 1999, 204

14

NOTES

1.  The central pillar of this three-stone alignment has two large cupmarks on its SW face.

2.  Alignment is from geometrical centre to the outlying standing stone known as Long Meg.  On one face of Long Meg are three carvings; a cup-and-ring mark with a gutter, a spiral and some incomplete concentric circles.

3.  Five stones remain of an original circle of eight.  The cupmarks are on the inner face of a stone at the SW.

4.  The recumbent stone is positioned at the SW and has 119 cupmarks.  Unlike Rothiemay, the majority of recumbent stone circles in Aberdeenshire appear to have their recumbent slabs orientated towards the major Southern moonset (see Note 5).

5.  Alignment is from the circle centre to a cup-marked stone positioned to the East of the recumbent slab.  The recumbent slab itself is positioned at the SSW of the circle, in line with the major Southern moonset.

6.  This peculiar site was discovered and examined in the mid-1970s and mid-1980s.  It comprises man-made platforms, standing stones, cup-marked slabs and other features.  The alignment in question is from the so-called 'Oak Bank' stone, a recumbent slab situated on a ridge, to a natural outcrop with a single cupmark some 35 metres to the SW.

7.  Alignment is to the rising midwinter Sun to the SE.  The two inner stones of the four-stone alignment are cup-marked on alternate faces.  Burl also suggests that the builders may have intended the rays of the midwinter setting Sun to fall on the SW face of one of the cup-marked stones.  The alignment to the NW is to the most Northerly moonset.

8.  The site comprises a NE-SW line of three Clava cairns.  Two passage-grave entrances face the midwinter setting Sun, which would have shone into their chambers.  There are cupmarks in the chamber of the SW tomb and on its Western kerbstone.

9.  Alignment is to a 1.8 metre long boulder positioned some 3 metres to the South-west of the kerb.  The boulder is decorated with cupmarks, cup-and-ring marks and grooves.  A crude causeway connects the boulder to the cairn.  A kerbstone on the Eastern side of the cairn is also cup-marked.

10.  Alignment is through the recumbent slab at the SW, which has a cupmark carved inside the apparent outline of an axe.  Opposite the recumbent are two tall portal stones, which define the axis of the circle along the same alignment.

11.  The South-western stone of the Four Stones has three cupmarks on its sloping upper surface, each about 7cm in diameter (see site plan).

12.  These four stones may originally have surrounded a cairn.

13.  The site is also referred to by the names 'Dull' and 'Weem'.

14.  Alignment is to a fallen stone SE of the circle, which has numerous cupmarks.


Copyright  Martin J Powell  June 2003


BIBLIOGRAPHY

BURL, Aubrey

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

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

 

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).

 

RUGGLES, Clive

1999    Astronomy in Prehistoric Britain and Ireland, Yale University Press (New Haven & London).

 

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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