Sunday, September 20, 2009

Stonehenge Decoded

by Gerald S. Hawkins, 1965.

There are no druids in this book, no human sacrifices, no ritual orgies. It is much more interesting than that. If nothing else, after looking at the maps, schematics, and detailed discussion, you will know some hard facts about Stonehenge … its layout, the positions and names of the individual stones and formations.

Hawkins, an astronomer, was not the first to speculate that Stonehenge may have been used as an observatory, but he was the first to demonstrate that and how it was done. He also argues convincingly, but cannot prove, that a lesser-known feature of Stonehenge (the “Aubrey holes”) were used as a “computer” (i.e. a means of keeping track) to predict eclipses down to the day.

“Stonehenge was an observatory” may sound kind of tame. You have to read the book to realize the incredible amount of intelligence, work, and technology that went into setting up this amazing observatory. For example:
• How did they figure out how to position the stones, especially given the notoriously foggy weather on Salisbury Plain, that makes it difficult to observe sun- and moon- rises?
• How did they transport the stones?
• How did they shape the stones, including the niches that kept them from falling off each other?
• How in the world did they position the Heel Stone so that its top lines up with an observor’s view of the horizon, especially since it would settle after being erected?
• How did they know that if they had selected a location much further North or South, the elegant rectangle-within-a-circle that is part of the observatory function of Stonehenge, would have had to be a much less elegant trapezoid?

When you have read all this, you will never again doubt the intelligence of ancient man. After describing the amount of manpower that it would have taken to dig the trench, build the wall, and transport, shape, and set up the stones, and comparing that manpower to the probable population of Britain at the time, Hawkins points out that Stonehenge can be compared without exaggeration to the U.S. space program, in terms of the amount of manpower and resources devoted to it. Not to mention sophistication. Hawkins had to use a computer to unravel the riddle the ancients set him.

This is one of those cases where throwing some light on the mystery makes it more, not less, awe-inspiring.

Saturday, September 12, 2009