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Archaeoastronomical sites

Subject: Archaeoastronomical sites

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Date: Sun, 22 Aug 1999 23:45:47 -0400
From: Dan Washburn (

I have been dipping into the following book:

John Edwin Wood (Deputy Director of the Admiralty Surface
Weapons Establishment), "Sun, Moon and Standing Stones," 1978,
Oxford University Press.

He gives an excellent summary of Alexander Thom's work on
measuring megalithic monuments and reviews the several types
of stone rings that have been discovered -- circles,
flattened circles, ellipses and eggs. For example he says on
p 40 that more than 20 stone ellipses have been discovered,
with a very wide geographical distribution.

P 53 Whatever the period of construction the majority of
stone rings were truly circular.  The rough proportions for
the different shapes are 2/3 true circles, 1/6 flattened
circles, 1/9 ellipses, and 1/18 eggs. The earliest rings are
true circles, as one would expect since these are the
easiest to set out.  A few flatteneed circles may have been
built in the Late Neolithic Period, but the other
developments, ellipses and eggs, belong to the Early Bronze
Age, with most of them later than 2000 BC.  With the
development of the more elaborate shapes there was a general
reduction in size of stone circles, and the Early Bronze Age
circles include a much smaller proportion of  large ones
than do those from the Late Neolithic Period.

There are two types of flattened circle, Type A and B, and
two types of egg, Type I and II.  We are going to ignore
these differences here, though.

The overall question is why are there stone rings at all?
This leads to the question as to why some stone rings are
non-circular?  Why are there flattened circles, ellipses,
and eggs?

In my essay, The Original Religion of Mankind, I extracted
from a wide variety of mythological traditions the elements
of a proto-religion of humankind, that possibly goes back to
the hunter-gatherer societies of the Upper Paleolithic.

One of the elements of that proto-religion was a concern
with the center of the sky, the point around which all the
stars revolve.  Meditation on the center of the sky led me
to speculations about the cup and ring and the spiral
decorations on megalithic monuments.  (A 'Cup and ring' was
formed by a small central depression surrounded by
concentric circles, there was usually a channel from the
outside to the central depression, as well.)

Quoting from myself:


I have been meditating on the axis mundi and the still point
at the center of the sky and what has been persistently
coming to me is the form of the spiral.

The still point is eternity, the place beyond time, out of
which everything emerges.  As Consciousness moves out from
the center in the creation of the heavens, the combination
of movement outward and the circular rotation of the sky
produces the spiral.

Megalithic monuments are covered with [cup and ring and]
spiral forms. No one has been able to give a good
explanation of their meaning and I've puzzled over their
interpretation.  As the product of a sky religion that is
concerned with the astronomical alignment of monuments, I
would now say that they represent the spiral of creation
from the center of the sky. There is usually a straight
channel that connects the outside with the center of the
[cup and ring] as well.  This is a representation of the
axis mundi.

The spiral could have functioned as a ritual.  If you have a
particular wish, hold it in mind while carving the spiral of
creation into a sacred stone.  You will then magically
create whatever it is that you wish for, since you have
aligned your mind with the creative power of the sky.


If the spiral and the cup and ring decorations represented
the center of the sky and its creative power, then perhaps
the larger stone rings themselves also represented the
center of the sky and its creative power.

Regular circles represent the whole sky.

But it was the center of the sky, which was not overhead but
further down toward the horizon in the north, that was most
sacred.  A flattened circle is an attempt to represent a
picture of the sky in which part of the circle of stars
around the center  is truncated.  We see the full circle
overhead heading out from the center, but heading in the
other direction toward the horizon the circle is flattened.

Ellipses represent a next step.  The center of the sky is
one foci of the ellipse, the pole of the ecliptic or the
point directly overhead is the other foci.

But the ellipse misrepresents the shape of the sky.  The
circle of the point directly overhead is larger than the
circle formed by the center of the sky, hence the egg shapes
were developed.

It seems to me that these speculations might be checked by a
careful consideration of the proportions of a stone ring in
relation to the lattitude of its location, the time of year,
and the positions of the overhead, pole of the ecliptic, and
center of the sky.  Plus the orientation of the stone ring.

Another thought occurs to me:  The flattened circles,
ellipses, and egg-shapes are all directional.  You can draw
a straight line through each one along a well defined axis. 
Has anyone taken a large scale map and drawn in the axis
lines of the irregular stone rings?  Do they meet at
significant spots?  Do they form some sort of pattern,
geometric or astronomical or mythological?

Interesting questions!

If anyone has the time to pursue them, or knows if they have
already been answered, please let me know.

Dan W.

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