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Britain's oldest rock group

 Scientific study of the orientation of the remains of temples and other sites in the Middle East and Europe, including the pyramids of Egypt, may be said to have started in the nineteenth century. The study of the various astronomical achievements of the past, combining the knowledge of archaeologists, astronomers and other scientists came to be called Archeoastronomy

One of the earliest exponents of this new discipline was Sir Norman Lockyer whose pioneering work on Stonehenge  in the late 19th century "Stonehenge and Other British Stone Monuments Astronomically Considered" ( an essential read for anyone interested in the subject ) demonstrated that Stonehenge and other +early megalithic monuments are oriented on certain celestial events marking significant days of the year.

Many peoples of the ancient world have left behind evidence of their concern with the movement of celestial bodies. From rock paintings to Stonehenge, from the calendars of the Babylonians, the Mayans and the Egyptians. The sun, the moon, and the stars have always been dominant features of the human world. 


Among megalithic monuments Stonehenge stands unique, not just because the builders used stone lintels a feature not found in other ancient stone circles.

But there is another, even more significant feature of Stonehenge which makes it different. Earlier megalithic stone circles consist of stones erected to align with, or indicate, natural features in the landscape. Mountains or hills over which the sun, moon or other celestial object rise or fall on certain significant dates. They were built in the landscape.

'Throughout time the coincidence of a sunrise or sunset with a natural feature such as a mountain or an island has always been, and indeed still is, awe inspiring. Any site which possessed such an alignment was a natural indicator of a heavenly event and thus sacred.' :- Henry Lincoln

The same author also says 'Any place which possessed such alignments was holy.'

The significant alignments are there in the landscape before the stones.

Not so Stonehenge. Stonehenge, situated as it is on Salisbury Plain, possesses no such natural indicators it is entirely man made and so represents both a step forward in the achievements of man and a step away from the achievements of nature. Stonehenge was built on the landscape. All the alignments are marked by the stones, they indicate no natural features, without the stones there are no alignments. 

Next -

Stonehenge; The Naming of the Parts


The Divisions of the Year


For agricultural societies the recurrence of seasonal events was, and still is critical to their survival.

'To everything, there is a season
A time to every purpose under heaven.
A time to plant, a time to reap.'

'When we study the history of our own country we find that in various times in our country we have had a year, a farmer's year, beginning in the month of May; we have had another farmer's year beginning in the month of August; we have had another farmer's year beginning at the longest day; and it appears that the year beginning at the longest day was really the last year to be introduced. So that while we have in Stonehenge a solstitial temple—that is to say, a temple to make observations of the length of the year by observing the rise of the sun on the longest day of the year—in other parts of England there were other temples observing the sun, not on the 21st of June, but early in May and early in August.' ( Lockyer - Chapter 3 )


'And here a very important point comes in; which time of the year and day of the year are most easy to fix by astronomical observation? As a matter of fact the summer solstice, the position of the sun on the longest day, is a point easily fixed. All we have to do is to observe the sun rising more and more to the north as the summer approaches, until at the very height of the summer we have the extreme north-easterly point of the horizon reached, and the sun stands still. We have the solstice.' ( Lockyer - Chapter 2 )



Firstly there are the solstices and equinoxes, which fall around the 22nd-25th of the relevant months, March ( Easter Equinox ) , July ( Midsummer Solstice ), September ( Autumnal Equinox ) and December ( Midwinter Solstice ).


The various bearings of the sun in risings and settings in a place with a N. latitude of 51°.

( from Lockyer Stonehenge and Other British Stone Monuments Astronomically Considered - Chapter 2 )


Midsummer Solstice June 22nd - Sun's decl. N. 41° 26' at the latitude of Stonehenge, 51°N

Autumnal Equinox, September 22nd - Sun's decl. N. 0 at the latitude of Stonehenge, 51°N

Midwinter Solstice, December 22nd - Sun's decl. S. 41° 26' at the latitude of Stonehenge, 51°N

Spring Equinox, March 22nd - Sun's decl. N. 0 at the latitude of Stonehenge, 51°N




Stonehenge is oriented on these celestial events including the midsummer and midwinter solstices.

Two of the most influential interpreters of this aspect of Stonehenge are Sir Norman Lockyer in his 'Stonehenge and Other British Stone Monuments Astronomically Considered'  ( Read the full text online here ) and Gerald S. Hawkins in 'Stonehenge Decoded'


Quarter Days


Midway between these are the quarter days which fall on the beginning of the relevant months - February, May, August and November.


The astronomical and vegetation divisions of the year.

( from Lockyer Stonehenge and Other British Stone Monuments Astronomically Considered - Chapter 3 )



May 6 and August 8 - Sun's decl. N. 16° 20' at the latitude of Stonehenge, 51°N

November 8 and February 4 - Sun's decl. S. 16° 20´
at the latitude of Stonehenge



  Greek Latin Celtic Christian
start of summer May 6th May 6th May  1st- Beltane Mayday
start of Autumn August 11th August 8th August 1st - Lughnasa harvest festival
start of winter November 10th November 9th October 31st/November 1st - Samaine Halloween
start of spring February 7th February 7th February 2nd - Imbolc Candlemass

( see Lockyer Chapter 3 for details on the variation in days/dates and 'movable' festivals )


The quarter days, signifying the change of the seasons, are the great festival days of many cultures




Recorded Alignments at Stonehenge.


From Sir Norman Lockyer - 'Stonehenge and Other British Stone Monuments Astronomically Considered'  ( Read the full text online here ) and Gerald S. Hawkins - 'Stonehenge Decoded'.

Indicates angle Stones at Stonehenge
Northerly Major Lunar Standstill
 40.7 92 - G
Northerly Major Lunar Standstill
 43.7 centre - A 
Northerly Major Lunar Standstill
43.7º centre - D
Midsummer sunrise
 92 - 91 
Midsummer sunrise 
 30/1 - Heel
Midsummer sunrise 
centre - heel 
Midsummer sunrise 
93 - 94 
Northern minor lunar standstill
centre - F 
Equinox moonrise
 94 - heel
Equinox moonrise
 94 - B
Equinox sunrise
 93 - F
Equinox sunrise 
 94 - C
Equinox moonrise
94 - E
Southerly Minor Lunar Standstill
53/4 - 8/9
Midwinter sunrise 
 93 - H 
Midwinter sunrise
 94 - G 
Midwinter sunrise
 51/2 - 6/7 
Southerly Major Lunar Standstill
53/4 - 9/10
Southerly Major Lunar Standstill
 93 - 92
Quarter Days 
117.4º 93 - centre - 91 
Meridian Line


Equinox and Solstice

The points of intersection of the Ecliptic and the celestial equator  are called the nodes or more commonly the equinoxes. Currently the vernal, or spring, equinox occurs around the 21st of March. The autumnal equinox occurs around the 23rd of September. Midway between the equinoxes are the winter solstice around the 22nd of December and the summer solstice, the 21st of June. ( Solstice means 'sun stands still' )
Because the equator and the ecliptic rotate in opposite directions to each other the position of the equinoxes on the ecliptic moves about one degree every seventy years. ( It takes 25,868 years for the ecliptic and the celestial equator to return to the same relative positions). 



Lunar Standstill

"At what is called the Major Lunar Standstill, the moon reaches its maximum northern and southern rising points on the horizon. Solstices of a kind, though this analogy is not really accurate. In the year of a major standstill it is the winter full moon which achieves the northerly rising extreme, and the summer full moon the southerly extreme. Also in a major standstill year, the arc of the moon across the sky can vacillate quite rapidly between being very high at times, to little more than skimming the horizon at others — a very dramatic and noticeable phenomenon, especially at higher latitudes. This is because in a single month in a Major Standstill year the moon’s orbit carries it well above and well below the ecliptic.
"At the Minor Standstill year, nine years and a few months later, the winter full moon rises as far south of the midsummer sun rise Position as it ever does while the midsummer full moon rises as far north of the midwinter sunrise position as it can. So the spread of the horizon between rising and setting positions is the narrowest that occurs." - Devereux


The Stone Circle

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