A new interpretation of the function of the megalithic circle at Stonehenge in England, thanks to archaeoastronomy, leads to the conclusion that it was not used as a giant solar calendar.
Instead, its structure reveals a symbolic interest of the builders in the solar cycle, most likely related to the connections between the afterlife and the winter solstice in Neolithic societies.
This is revealed by Giulio Magli, professor at the Politecnico di Milano, and Juan Antonio Belmonte, a Barcelona native who has lived in Tenerife, Canary Islands, for decades, professor at the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands and the University of La Laguna, in an article published in Antiquity.
Archaeoastronomy, which often uses satellite images to study the orientation of archaeological sites, plays a key role in this interpretation, since Stonehenge exhibits an astronomical alignment with the sun that refers to both the summer solstice sunrise and the winter solstice sunset.
In the paper, Magli and Belmonte refute the theory that the monument was used as a giant calendrical device, based on 365 days per year divided into 12 months, with the addition of a leap year every four, reports Politecnico di Milano in a statement.
This calendar is identical to the Alexandrian calendar, introduced more than two millennia later, at the end of the 1st century BC, as a combination of the Julian calendar and the Egyptian civil calendar. The authors show that this theory is based on a number of forced interpretations of the astronomical connections of the monument, as well as on questionable numerology and unsubstantiated analogies.
Firstly, Magli and Belmonte refer to astronomy: they show that the slow movement of the sun on the horizon on days close to the solstices makes it impossible to control the correct functioning of the alleged calendar, as a device (not to forget: composed of huge stones) should be able to distinguish positions with an accuracy of a few minutes of arc, i.e. less than 1/10 of a degree.
Secondly, numerology. Attributing meanings to the “numbers” on a monument is always a risky procedure. For example, in this case, a “key number” of the supposed calendar, 12, is nowhere recognisable.
Finally, cultural parallels. An early elaboration of the 365 plus 1 day calendar is documented in Egypt only two millennia after Stonehenge (and came into use centuries later). Furthermore, a transfer and elaboration of notions with Egypt that occurred around 2600 BC, when Stonehenge was erected, has no archaeological basis.