A study conducted by a pair of physicists has criticized past research which claimed that Stonehenge was created to function like a giant calendar. They assert that astronomical associations connected to the world-famous Wiltshire monument were based on flawed suppositions.
This is in stark opposition to a research paper from 2022 which suggested that Stonehenge in England “represented a calendar year of 365.25 days.” Written by Timothy Darvill, the famous Trilithon Horseshoe, Sarsen Circle and the Station Stone Rectangle, were all built into this theory which proposed the ancient stone circle functioned exactly the same as the modern Julian calendar.
When Darvill’s hypothesis was first released, this Stonehenge calendar theory was put to the test by Dr. John Hill in Ancient Origins . Now, a new study argues that Darvill’s proposal “is unsubstantiated” and was based on unscientific assumptions such as “numerology, astronomical error and unsupported analogy.”
Stonehenge was NOT a giant calendar https://t.co/9ovrke0ef9
— Daily Mail Online (@MailOnline) March 24, 2023
Elaborating On Timeworn Stonehenge Calendar Myths
The idea that Stonehenge was a timekeeping device was first proposed by the early 18th century British antiquarian, William Stukeley, who surveyed Stonehenge and wrote extensively about the site. Stukeley concluded that some of the giant stones were aligned to coordinate with the two solstices and that the site functioned as “an astronomical observatory” used to help determine key stages in the Neolithic agricultural calendar.
In Darvill’s 2022 paper published in the journal Antiquity, the researcher argued that “the numerology” of the sarsen stones “materializes a perpetual calendar based on a tropical solar year of 365.25 days,” that was used to “regularize festivals and ceremonies.”
This study went so far as to say that the indigenous development of such a calendar in northwestern Europe was indeed possible, but suggested “an Eastern Mediterranean origin” and that the solar calendar was associated with the spread of solar cosmologies during the third millennium BC.
Aerial view of the supposed Stonehenge calendar. ( anitalvdb / Adobe Stock)
Dealing with Historical Stonehenge Dogma
The new paper by Guilio Magli, from the Politecnico of Milan, and Juan Antonio Belmonte, from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias and Universidad de La Laguna in Tenerife, was published in Antiquity. Within their study, PHYS explained that the above theory was subjected to “a severe stress test by experts of archaeoastronomy.”
If you don’t already know, the latter author, Giulio Magli, is an Italian astrophysicist and archaeo-astronomer who works primarily on the relationship between the architecture of ancient cultures and the sky. Since 2009 Magli has taught a course on archaeoastronomy, representing the first ever such course offered in an Italian University.
In their new study, the pair of archaeoastronomical researchers demonstrated that the old Stonehenge calendar theory is based on “a series of forced interpretations of the astronomical connections of the monument, as well as on debatable numerology and unsupported analogies.”
While the researchers accept that the key alignment at Stonehenge, which marks the summer solstice sunrise and to the winter solstice sunset, “was deliberate,” it’s another thing altogether to assume the site served ancient communities like some kind of giant calendar.
The new study argues that debunks Stonehenge calendar theories. ( 50photography / Adobe Stock)
Debunking Stonehenge Calendar Theories
Pulling the old astronomical theory apart, while the pair of researchers accept the solstice alignment is “quite accurate,” Magli and Belmonte show that the slow movement of the sun at the horizon, in the days close to solstices, makes it impossible to control the correct working of the alleged Stonehenge calendar.
They also argue that if the stone circle at Stonehenge was a functional calendar, users should be able to distinguish positions “as accurate as a few arc minutes, that is, less than 1/10 of one degree.” The researchers nevertheless conclude that this was not possible. So, while the solstice axis does align loosely with the extremes of the annual solar cycle, “it provides no proof whatsoever for inferring the number of days of the year conceived by the builders.”
The Scourge of the “Selection Effect”
The authors of the new study also point out that “attributing meanings to ‘numbers’ in an ancient monument is always a risky procedure.” They say the number 12 appears nowhere at the site, which is an important astronomical number (solar months in a year). Furthermore, there is no way to account for the additional epagomenal day which occurs every four years.
Compounding their argument that Stonehenge was not a calendar, the researchers said other numbers “are simply ignored.” In one example, they explain that the portal at Stonehenge comprises “two stones.” By bringing together all these arguments, the scientists suggest the old calendar theory was based greatly on the so-called selection effect, where only elements supporting a preconceived notion are presented.
Sunrise at Stonehenge. ( Nicholas / Adobe Stock)
Understanding Stonehenge in a New Light
Finally, and properly snuffing the dogmatic Stonehenge calendar idea, the researchers said “cultural paragons are at play” in that the first elaboration of the 365 plus 1-day calendar is documented in Egypt “only two millennia later than Stonehenge (and entered into use further centuries later).” This means that if the core astronomy underlying the site did indeed come from ancient Egypt , “they refined it on their own” because nothing of this kind ever existed there.
Having debunked traditional ideas that Stonehenge was built to record passing time, Belmonte and Magli explained that their work does not take anything away from Stonehenge’s “extraordinary fascination and importance.” And now, the so-called stone calendar of Stonehenge can be seen for what it really is, which is no more than “a purely modern construct whose archaeoastronomical and calendrical bases are flawed.”
Top image: Was Stonehenge a giant calendar, or not? Source: Pawel Pajor / Adobe Stock
By Ashley Cowie