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Stonehenge and Other British Stone Monuments Astronomically Considered 


by Norman Lockyer

   Mystic Realms        Stonehenge




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I PURPOSE next to inquire whether in the wonderful series of Megalithic remains in Brittany, remains more extensive than any in Britain, any light is thrown on the suggestion I have made that the May Worship preceded the Solstitial Worship at Stonehenge.

It has long been known that the stones which compose the prehistoric remains in Brittany are generally similar in size and shape to those at Stonehenge, but, as I have already stated, in one respect there is a vast difference.

Instead of a few, arranged in circles as at Stonehenge, we have an enormous multitude of the so-called menhirs arranged in many parallel lines for great distances. Some of these are unhewn like the Friar's Heel, some have as certainly been trimmed.

The literature which has been devoted to them is very considerable, but the authors of it, for the most part, have taken little or no pains to master the few elementary astronomical principles which are necessary to regard the monuments from the point of view of orientation.

It is consoling to know that this cannot be said of the last published contribution to our knowledge of this region, which we owe to Monsieur F. Gaillard, a member of the Paris Anthropological Society and of the Polymathic Society of Morbihan at Plouharnel. ( footnote 97:1 )

M. Gaillard is a firm believer in the orientation theory, and accepts the view that a very considerable number of the alignments are solstitial. But although he gives the correct azimuths for the solstitial points and also figures showing the values of the obliquity of the ecliptic as far as 2200 B.C., his observations are not sufficiently precise to enable a final conclusion to be drawn, and his method of fixing the alignments and the selection of the index menhir are difficult to gather from his memoir and the small plans which accompany it, which, alas! deal with compass bearings only.

All the same, those interested in such researches owe a debt of gratitude to M. Gaillard for his laborious efforts to increase our knowledge, and will sympathise with hint at the manner in which his conclusions were treated by the Paris anthropologists. One of them, apparently thinking that the place of sun rising is affected by the precession of the equinoxes, used this convincing argument:—"Si, à l’origine les alignments étaient orientés, comme le pense M. Gaillard, ils ne le pourraient plus être aujourdhui; au contraire, s’ils le sont actuellement, on peut affirmer qu’ils ne l’étaient pas alors!"

M. Gaillard is not only convinced of the solstitial orientation of the avenues, but finds the same result in the case of the dolmens.

I cannot find any reference in the text to any orientations dealing with the farmers' years, that is with amplitudes of about 25° N. and S. of the E. and W. points; but in the diagrams on pp. 78 and 127 I find both avenue and dolmen alignments, which within the limits of accuracy apparently employed may perhaps with justice be referred to them; but observations of greater accuracy must be made, and details of the heights of the horizon at the various points given, before anything certain can be said about them.

I append a reproduction of one of M. Gaillard's plans, which will give an idea of his use of the index Menhir. It shows the alignments at Le Ménec, lat. 47½° (Fig. 26). The line A—Soleil runs across the stone alignments and is fixed from A by the menhir B, but there does not seem any good reason for selecting B except that it appears to fall in the line of the solstitial azimuth according to M. Gaillard. But if we take this azimuth as N. 54° E., then we find the alignments to have an azimuth roughly of N. 66° E., which gives us the amplitude of 24° N. marking the place of sunrise at the beginning of the May and November years, and the alignments may have dealt principally with those times of the year.

I esteem it a most fortunate thing that while I have been casting about as to the best way of getting more accurate data, Lieutenant Devoir, of the French Navy and therefore fully equipped with all the astronomical knowledge necessary; who resides at Brest and has been studying the prehistoric monuments in his neighbourhood for many years, has been good enough to give me the results of his work in that region, in which the problems seem to be simpler than further south; for while in the vicinity of Carnac the menhirs were erected in groups numbering five or six thousand, near Brest, lat. 48½°, they are much more restricted in number. I am much indebted to him for permission to use and publish his results. Lieutenant Devoir, by his many well-planned and
approximately accurate observations, has put the solstitial orientation beyond question, and, further, has made important observations which prove that the May and August sunrises were also provided for in the systems of alignments. I give the following extracts from his letter:—

“It is about twelve years ago that I remarked in the west part of the Department of Morbihan (near Lorient) the parallelism of the lines marked out by monuments of all sorts, and frequently oriented to the N.E., or rather between N. 50° E. and N. 55° E. I had ascertained, moreover, the existence of lines perpendicular to the first named, the right angle being very well measured.

FIG. 26.—Alignments at Le Ménec.

“The plans, which refer to the cantons of Ploudalmézeau and of St. Renan (district of Brest) and of Crozon (district of Chateaulin), have been made on a plane-table; the orientations are exact to one or two degrees.

“In the cantons of Ploudalmézeau and of St. Renan, the monuments are generally simple; seven menhirs are visible of enormous dimensions, remarkable by the polish of their surface and the regularity of their section. The roughnesses hardly ever reach a centimetre; the sections are more often ovals, sometimes rectangles with the angles rounded or terminated by semicircles. In the canton of Crozon the monuments are, on the contrary, complex; we find a cromlech with
an avenue leading to it of a length of 800 metres, another of 300 metres. Unfortunately, the rocks employed (sandstone and schist from Plungastel and Crozon) have resisted less well than the granulite from the north part of the Department. The monuments are for the most part in a very bad condition; the whole must, nevertheless, formerly have been comparable with that of Carnac-Leomariaquer.

“For the two regions, granitic and schistose, the results of the observations are identical.

“The monuments lie along lines oriented S. 54° W. - N. 54° E. (54° = azimuth at the solstices for L = 48° 30´ and i = 23° 30') and N. 54° W. ? S. 54° E. Some of them determine lines perpendicular to the meridian.

“One menhir (A), 6m. 90 in height and 9m. 20 in circumference, erected in the small island of Melon
(canton of Ploudalmézeau, latitude 48° 29´ 05?) a few metres from a tumulus surrounded by the ruins of a cromlech (B and C), has the section such that the faces, parallel and remarkably plane, are oriented N. 54° E. (Figs. 27 and 28).


FIG. 27.—Menhir (A) on Melon Island. FIG. 28.—Melon Island, allowing Menhir (A) and Cromlech (B and C).

“At 1300 metres in the same azimuth there is a line of three large menhirs (D, E, F), of which one (E) is overthrown. The direction of the line passes exactlyby the menhir A. Prolonged towards the N.E. it meets at 3k. 700m. an overturned block of 2m. 50 in height, which is without doubt a menhir; towards the S.W. it passes a little to the south some lines of the island of Molène. . . . (Fig. 29).


FIG. 29.—Menhirs of St. Dourzal, D, E, F. FIG. 30.—Alignment at Lagatjar, G G´.

“There exists in the neighbourhood other groups, forming also lines of the same orientation and that of
the winter solstice. It is advisable to remark that orientations well determined for the solstices are much less so for the equinoxes, which is natural, the rising amplitude varying very rapidly at this time of year.

“The same general dispositions are to be found in the complex monuments of the peninsula of Crozon. I take for example the alignments of Lagatjar. Two parallel lines of menhirs, G G´ H H´, are oriented to S. 54° E. and cut perpendicularly by a third line, I I´. There existed less than fifty years ago a menhir at K, 6 metres high, which is to-day broken and overturned. This megalith, known in the country by the name of 'pierre du Conseil' (a bronze axe was found underneath it) gives with a dolmen situated near Camaret the direction of the sunrise on June 21 (Fig. 31).

FIG. 31.—Alignments at Lagatjar, showing the pierre du Conseil and the direction of the dolmen. From the pierre du Conseil the dolmen marks the sunrise place at the summer solstice, and the avenue G G´ H H´ the sunset place on the same day.

"I have just spoken of the lines perpendicular to the solstitial one; there exists more especially in the complex monuments another particularity which merits attention. Between two monuments, M and N, on a solstitial line, sometimes other menhirs are noticed, the line joining them being inclined 12° to the solstitial line, always towards the east" (Fig 32).

I must call particular attention to this important observation of Lieutenant Devoir, for it gives us the amplitude 24° N., the direction of sunrise at the beginning of the May and August years. It shows, moreover, that, as at Le Ménec according to M. Gaillard, the solstitial and May-August directions were both provided for at the monuments in the neighbourhood of Brest so carefully studied by Lieutenant Devoir.

Lieutenant Devoir points out the wonderful regularity of form and the fine polish of many of the menhirs. It will have been gathered from his account that those most carefully trimmed and tooled belong to the solstitial alignments. The one at Kerloas (11 metres high) heads
the list in point of size; others in the island of Melon (7 metres), at Kergadion (8 metres and 10 metres), Kerenneur, Kervaon and Kermabion follow suit. He considers them to have been erected at the time of the highest civilisation of the Megalithic peoples. He also states that these regularly formed menhirs do not exist at Carnac, or in the region of Pont l’Abbé, so rich in other remains which certainly refer chiefly to the May-November year. It seems, then, that in these localities the May-August worship first chiefly predominated, and that the index menhirs of M. Gaillard which indicate the solstice and which do not form part of the alignments were erected subsequently.

FIG. 32.—Menhirs, M N on N.E.-S.W. solstitial alignment. Menhirs 1, 2, on May-August years alignment, sunrise May-August, sunset November-February.

Finally, then, the appeal to Brittany is entirely in favour of the May-November year worship having preceded the solstitial one.

I have already stated the evidence at Stonehenge that the sunrise at the beginning of the May and August years was observed in an earlier temple which existed before the present structure existed. Were this so we have another point common to the British and Breton monuments. I therefore think that I may justly claim the Brittany evidence as entirely in favour of the suggestion put forward in Chap. IX with regard to Stonehenge.


97:1 "L’Astronomie Prehistorique." Published in "Les Sciences Populaires, revue mensuelle internationale," and issued separately by the administration des "Sciences populaires," 15 Rue Lebrun, Paris.



Next Chapter: Chapter XI. Astronomical Hints For Archæologists

Authentic Medieval Swords & Armor


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