•June 23, 2011 • 3 Comments

The design of Stonehenge

The construction of Stonehenge reflects the empirical discovery of mathematical truths. Its design embodies the elegant and universal symbolism of numbers and geometry. Some 4,500 years ago Neolithic surveyors and engineers understood and employed the relationships between squares and circles. They accurately created polygons which included hexagons pentagons decagons; the classic 30 sided figure which determined the positions of the Sarsen Circle (a ‘triacontagon’) is itself a product of these fundamental shapes.

The ‘horseshoe’ form of the central array was derived from the same markers that determined the position of the Sarsen Circle. Beyond the circle, the four ‘Station Stones’ sit in perfect spatial and geometric relationship with the central group. A modern preoccupation with ‘alignments’ has masked the elegantly simple formulae used by the prehistoric designers.

News – Amazing stone rabbit (not found near Stonehenge and well, it’s actually a  natural flint nodule, but it’s prettier than the ‘carved stone ducks’). Here it is:   Stone Rabbit

I love this:  WARNING, do not play if you are offended by colourful language:

His poor wife, and all the guy had to do was click this link: What?

Here’s something for all you mathematicians ….

In the world of archaeology there is such a thing as transparent or manifest proof. I will explain in a moment, but first what is archaeology? The simple answer is that it is the study of the human past through the evidence provided by material remains. Hence when you look at any theory which relates to archaeology, and especially prehistoric remains,  you have to ask yourself  ‘can this be supported by the tangible evidence, or is it no more than opinion and guesswork’. So back to the original point, what is this extra dimension, this realm of the ‘transparent or manifest’? what does it mean? If  archaeology only deals with material evidence how can there be dimension within which other information resides? Well, let’s consider an archaeologist finds a bronze artefact, and let’s say the context is secure, for example it was found with burial scientifically dated to some time before 2,000 BC. The archaeologist may not know where the tin or copper that made up the alloy came from, nor any other ‘fact’ such as where it was made, or for what purpose, but we can say ‘the people who made this had access to both tin and copper’ and that they  knew how to raise the temperature of a smelting furnace to near 1000 degrees Celsius, fact. In other words we don’t have to find the source of the tin or copper, nor locate the furnace to know that both these statements are true.

Now when we use the same logic to examine Stonehenge, we also see numerous examples of ancient knowledge which can be unlocked from the design of the structure. From the evidence of the physical remains we can directly enter the realm of prehistoric knowledge, without guesswork and without speculation. To do this we do not start with a ‘theory’ into which the evidence appears to fit, but by considering what the evidence actually tells us about what people who built Stonehenge knew. From this starting point we can then begin to understand the way that knowledge was used to create the structure. By doing this we start from the basic facts and the uncertainties soon become apparent. The alternative is to endlessly sift accept and reject poorly constructed theories which may or may not be correct, and invariably if they are not susceptible to any kind of material proof this ultimately is a pointless exercise. That’s not to say we cannot test and evaluate the ‘theories’ but only after the all the evidence has been called in does it make any sense to do so. Moreover the body of evidence is not static, we gradually learning more about Stonehenge and contemporay monuments and improving scientific methods of investigation.

So, and here’s a simple exercise for mathematicians, here are some facts, based on the tangible archaeological evidence. The inner faces of the ring of ‘sarsen’ stones at Stonehenge form a circle to which the centre of the faces conform. Forget interpretations that show circles drawn through the centres of the stones, or to the outside of the circle, for the stones are all irregular in thickness and form. Anyone who disputes this fact needs to take a long hard look at accurate plans of the structure, and preferably pay a visit to examine among others, sarsen stone 16. It will then be immediately apparent that the builders of Stonehenge set the inner faces of the stones against their marked circle. Still unsure, then ask a builder when building a natural stone wall how the stones are selected and set. Are his stones chosen so that the better sides represent the face of the construction; is the string line to which he works on the face, or is the line running in the middle of the foundations? Let’s assume we have overcome all the illogical arguments as to which aspect of the Stonehenge circle represents the surveyors intended circle, so what’s next, what’s this ‘mathematical’ question in respect of the setting out of the stones?

Interestingly we accept the idea of the prehistoric circle largely without question, it can be measured and checked on the ground and verified. We can see exactly what the prehistoric surveyors intended, even if we don’t understand why they wanted a circle in the first place (remember that’s simply the realm of speculation, we can’t say why). But wait, what else we know about this structure; well despite being a stone circle it has an axis, it straddles the line of the midwinter sunset and midsummer sunrise, there were originally thirty uprights, the solstice axis passes between stone 30 and 1 and 15 and 16. What might we discover from these facts alone? Firstly that they could set out an accurate circle, obvious in it’s simplicity, knock a peg in the ground and scribe or make a circle using a rope, and yes they had ropes, so that’s how they started, too easy? It would be if in fact that was where they did start, but they didn’t! Firstly Stonehenge (the iconic sandstone structure) sits central to a much earlier earthwork; they needed to find the centre, now try guessing where the centre of an earthwork some 100m in diameter is, and you will immediately understand the first problem. You might try marking it out on the ground,  it’s a pretty big area. Secondly they didn’t even start with a circle!  Remember the axis of the construction, the two solstices,  this line had to be marked out first, exactly through the centre of the existing earthwork, and only then the centre point found.

Outside and beyond the Circle, sitting just inside the remains of the earthwork are the two surviving so-called Station Stones, two others are lost but are known from their foundation holes. Station stones, not a bad name actually  as they do appear to be exactly that, surveyors survey control stations. If you take two lines across the diagonals of the ‘Station Stone rectangle’ they form they cross in the centre of the Stone Circle. And, just as importantly this ‘rectangle’ formed by the Station Stones; well the short sides make up two facets of an octagon, in other words the Station Stones were set on the vertices of two opposing facets of an octagon. Moreover the Station Stones were there before the central array, it would have been impossible to set them up so accurately in respect of the Circle if they were later.

So, returning to the Circle, we can see marked out the line of the Solstices, simple really by observation, even looking at the length of the sun’s shadow as ancient Japanese observers are known to have done to establish the solstice. On this line, and in the centre of the existing outer work (established some 500 years earlier around 3,000 BC), they scribed the circle against which the inner faces of then stones were to be set. Are we getting to the maths problem yet? We certainly are, here’s the task they were faced with, put yourself in their place:

You have 30 massive stones to set upright in a circle, each irregular, each of different width and thickness (and height). You want to set them so as they support 30 perfectly formed lintels, which have been pre-fabricated with complex pre-cut joints. We know about the pre fabrication because things didn’t always go to plan, and some joints had to be re-cut (at least one of the circle stones cracked, but I digress, the reference below explains all that). Now and here’s the real challenge, you want to keep the axis of the solstice clear, in other words you have to place four of your thirty stones at their correct spacing either side of the ‘solar corridor’. Easy, is it really? Don’t forget that the joints in the lintels are supported in the centre of the uprights, and that the middle of the flatter (prepared) inner faces are set almost perfectly to the vertices of a regular 30 sided polygon (a triacontagon to be precise).

So how do you do it, for they did, and with great accuracy. How do you created a 30m diameter 30-gon on the ground, and ensure that the axis of the structure (within which there are further mirrored symmetrical structural elements, some up to 50 tons) is preserved. What’s more these central stones, the ‘Trilithons’ had to in position before the Circle! When you begin to explore the possibilities you enter the prehistoric mindset behind the design of Stonehenge, you are using evidence manifest in the structure itself. Now look again at all the ‘theories’ and see if they still make sense, for example the idea that the stones themselves were aligned on some distant object, the moon or constellations. Remember you are now the prehistoric surveyor, what exactly are your priorities….

more details:

•November 16, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Solstice time at Stonehenge – the Winter Solstice that is…

Every year thousands of people make their way to Stonehenge on England’s Salisbury plain to witness the sunrise herald the longest day of the year. The fascination began in 1720 when the antiquarian William Stukeley noticed that the entrance through the surrounding earthwork approximated to the direction of the summer solstice. Accompanied by his friend the astronomer Edmund Halley he made the first ever attempt at scientifically dating the monument by means of solar observation and magnetic measurements. However what few people know is that it was the midwinter sunset, not the midsummer sunrise that Stonehenge was designed to face.

Extending deep below the turf the foundation pits of the stones provide the evidence. Each stone was placed into a cut which provided a vertical wall of chalk against which the better flatter faces of the stones were set. On the opposite side was an incline, a ramp down which the stones were introduced into their foundations. Within the centre of Stonehenge four of the five massive Trilithons, the first stones to be erected have their foundation ramps to the outside  the best sides facing inwards, all that is except the most impressive of all, the stones of the Great Trilithon, of which only one of the paired uprights remains standing. This massive stone weighing some 45 tons was raised from the centre of Stonehenge, its better face outwards towards the setting midwinter sun. This fact alone shows that the prehistoric architect’s first concern was the turning point of the year at the winter solstice.

In 1740 the stones were surveyed by John Wood, architect the famous city of Bath, creating what is now the most important early record Stonehenge ever made. Visitors to Bath today are largely unaware that Wood’s elegant Georgian buildings were inspired not only by Roman architecture, but by the symmetry and proportions he found within the plan of Stonehenge. A recent reappraisal of these early records and of the archaeological evidence reveals that Stonehenge itself was a carefully conceived geometrically inspired work, confirming that the order of construction tells us without doubt that it was the winter, not summer solstice that was the preoccupation of the Neolithic people who designed the monument. When you enter a cathedral you walk towards the altar, facing the direction of veneration, the fact that the door is at the west is more than the reciprocal of the fact that the altar lies to the east. So it was with Stonehenge,

For the real story of Stonehenge readers may like to see ‘Solving Stonehenge’ by Anthony Johnson, published by Thames & Hudson.

The book is described by the American Library Association, the worlds most professional, authoritative and unbiased reviewers as ‘the most attractive, readable, sensible and most comprehensive exploration of Stonehenge available’.


The Pages for: Solving Stonehenge

•March 23, 2008 • 14 Comments

There are clues in the archaeological record which take us on a remarkable journey into the sublime prehistoric dimension. Much of it concealed within the intrinsic details of the structure of Stonehenge. The monument sits astride the solar corridor, marking the longest and shortest days of the year, but inside the surrounding earthwork not one single stone of the mirrored symmetrical plan deviates from the master geometric model. Moreover the order of construction suggests that the focus of interest was the midwinter sunset towards which the Great Trilithon was designed to face. The idea of dividing the year into two halves, summer winter, light and dark, and themes accommodating the concept of duality of the natural and spiritual world into mirrored domains may well explain the preoccupation with symmetry of design seen in both monuments and artifacts of the period
Top: Stonehenge midwinter sunset, James Mitchell©

Below: How the ravages of time have taken their toll on Stonehenge Anthony Johnson©

Interpretations (which pretend to be ‘explanations’) of Stonehenge almost invariably start ‘too far down the line’, that is – they look at the finished monument. Or worse, they start with a theory and select only the details that supposedly fit the argument, there are even some archaeologists who are guilty of this curious practice. If we take one step back, and examine the logical process of its design, we see evidence for both the setting out and prefabrication of the structure, this is the area where we gain real insight into the prehistoric mindset. I guess this is largely where I am at odds with a lot of material written on Stonehenge, do we really want to know what people think it ‘means’ today – better by far to begin with an examination of the processes which determined its construction, by sound archaeological enquiry, only then can we really begin to offer our own vision of what it was ‘for”.

Regular visitors frequently ask about the chronological framework, so I’ve just added a timeline. This gives a fair and graphic approximation of the phases of construction and contemporary events during the time when Stonehenge was being constructed and modified. I Hope people will find this useful. The latest news is that radiocarbon dates from samples taken in 2008 indicate that the first central stone construction belongs to the period 2400 – 2300 BC – a little later than previously thought. However in yet another recent interpretation it has been suggested the idea advanced in the 1920s – that the Aubrey Holes held stones may be correct. If this was the case then the date for the first stone structure would be nearer to 3,000 BC. It should be stressed however this currently remains a speculative view.

History Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory

Oh and here is a little gem from 2002…*

‘Stonehenge Will Be Reunited With Its Natural Landscape By 2008’ Says Arts Minister Tessa Blackstone…