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Prehistoric cosmology: the story behind the design of Stonehenge
I found ‘decoding’ these 4,000 year old prehistoric objects as fascinating as Stonehenge itself. The design of the mysterious gold lozenges leads us just that little bit closer into the minds of the ancient craftsmen, but the question that follows is even more intriguing. A well-respected UK journalist asked me a few months back ‘do you think they were magic talismans?’ You know I have been so wrapped up in the archaeological process of ‘reverse engineering’ the designs that the thought never crossed my mind, a real oversight on my part. Of course readers will know that I never subscribed to the idea that they were ‘computers’ nor surveying or sighting aids, or that the angles of the lozenges were astronomical in their significance; as my teenage daughter might say ‘its jewellery, get over it’. But talismans? Well why not.
Now that we understand how they were created we might legitimately ask the question ‘was the design simply decorative or was it in some way symbolic’? And we must remember that although Stonehenge was already hundreds of years old when these objects were buried, we don’t know how long they had ‘been in circulation’ and, from the dating evidence, the enigmatic Y and Z Holes (i.e. that last known structural phase at Stonehenge) had yet to happen. So any thoughts?
The image below, a precise mirrored symmetrical design, was created almost 4,000 years ago, the work of people who had a sound understanding of geometry. It is known as the Bush Barrow Lozenge and was found under a barrow (burial mound) just south-west of Stonehenge.
Above we see the first stage in creating the master lozenge form of the Bush Barrow artifact. Every detail, even the 4 small cross hatches in the centre was worked out by the ancient craftsmen from this first hexagonal pattern using some kind of ‘compass and straight edge’. Everyone familiar with even the most basic of geometric constructions will be fascinated at the skills and precision displayed in the creation of these designs.Oh come on folks I think you can work it out from here in…!
Above: the first stages in creating the central geometric panel
Hexagons were not their only achievement: below is another example,
this one is based on a decagon (from a Bronze Age Barrow at Clandon in Dorset)
Too easy I guess (well it is after I have shown you how they were done!). Notice we have hexagons and decagons, think regular and symmetrical mirrored geometry to solve these, now consider Stonehenge with its 5’s, 6’s, 10’s, and 30…. Got it?
Of course not everyone is convinced that Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age people had the first idea about geometry, and set about demonstrating how the Bush barrow lozenge could be created without relying on any geometric construction. The first and fundamental error is that such attempts fail to address the basic form of the artefact, nor do they consider the smaller lozenge found in the same grave; they also conveniently overlook the Clandon Barrow Lozenge which is framed by a decagon (above). Why would an ancient craftsman attempt to measure out an accurate lozenge, when a geometric construction is so simple. Another argument denies that the craftsman had fine tools or a form of compass capable of executing such precise detail (which is absurd for the delicate nature of the work is testimony enough), there is simply no need to ask ‘where are the tools’!
The nature of archaeological evidence allows for the existence of such knowledge; it works like this, if for example we find a bronze artefact we know it must contain a % of tin. There may be no tin in the locality, and in all probability there would not be, tin is a scarce commodity, but it’s there in the artefact. Do we need to find the mould in which it was cast, or the furnace in which the metal was smelted, no we don’t. Nor do have any doubt that the artisan’s could get the furnace up to around 1000 degrees centigrade, such things are self-evident. Was the Bush barrow Lozenge was made by a skilled craftsman using a set of long-lost tools, it’s form was based on simple geometric design, the evidence is there for anyone who cares look.
And the smaller Bush Barrow lozenge.
You may also like to consider how earlier Neolithic surveyors marked out an accurate circle of 56 holes*.
The trick of how they laid out the circuit of holes with a cord and peg is 5,000 years old…. but has been lost, until that is, it was re-discovered by experiment while working on the book. It is actually so simple that you will find it hard to believe that people have puzzled over the number for the best part of a century. If there is a significance to 56, and there is plenty of speculation, it is something quite separate from how it was set out, the method the prehistoric surveyors used was based on simple square and circle geometry. Further research reveals that the fifty-six sided polygon was already part of ancient folklore in the classical world; so it’s quite clear that it was possible to draw…Just one small detail – when you experiment with your compass and straight-edge remember that measuring is not allowed!
* The number of ‘Aubrey Holes’ inside the bank of the early enclosure; probably holes in which posts were originally set, they date from shortly after 3,000 BC.
Neolithic surveyors experimented with what happens when you intersect concentric circles……
laid out using a peg and cord, and not only at Stonehenge.
OK, I’ve had so many requests as to how the Trilithons were set out, so here’s a clue…
Below: an example of the same type of geometry used in laying out the massive Great Trilithon at Stonehenge. You may like to see if you can work out how the remainder of the Trilithon array was done. However note that it was only the Great Trilithon that was raised from the inside-outwards, to face the midwinter sun. All the others were raised from the outside in. You can also see this by looking at which way they face, the flatter faces of the other stones are all turned inwards. We know from excavation of the foundation holes which way the stones were introduced. Logically as the Great Trilithon uprights had to be brought into the centre of the monument (so that they could be raised facing southwest), they had to be the first of the major central stones to have been erected.
The 30 centre inner face positions of each of the stones of the sarsen Circle are shown below. The plan of the Trilithon lintel array indicates where they were originally set. Each lintel was supported on a pair of uprights whose ‘centre face’ position was established from the surveyors marker pegs for the Circle, in other words the whole array, the Circle and the Ring – has geometric and temporal integrity, it was one design.
.…………For more details see…… ‘Solving Stonehenge’