|Revellers gather at the World Heritage site at Stonehenge in
Wiltshire to watch the sunrise during the summer solstice,
marking the longest day of the year
Revellers gather at the World Heritage site at Stonehenge in Wiltshire to watch the sunrise during the summer solstice, marking the longest day of the year
The thousands of people attending the summer solstice at Stonehenge this year – and for the past 13 years – might have got it completely wrong, for experts have revealed that the ancient monument just happens to align with the solstice sunrise.
Instead, the stones were built to align with an Ice Age landform, a series of naturally occurring fissures cut into ridges in the landscape – and it’s pure coincidence these align with the midwinter sunset in the south west and the midsummer sunrise in the north east.
That is the latest expert view from a lengthy project to discover as much as possible about Stonehenge, led by Professor Mike Parker Pearson, who has had the first chance in more than a century to have a dig around under the A344, one of the two major A-roads that surround the stones.
The road was closed earlier this year, and will ultimately be grassed over, but its Tarmac ran over the path of The Avenue, the ancient pathway that once led to the stones from a nearby river and places where Stonehenge’s users are thought to have lived.
When they dug up the road, they discovered The Avenue is half-natural.
“This natural landform happens to be on the solstice axis, which brings heaven and earth into one,” said Prof Parker Pearson. “So the reason that Stonehenge is all about the solstices, we think, is because they actually saw this in the land.
“It’s hugely significant because it tells us a lot about why Stonehenge was located where it is and why they were so interested in the solstices. It’s not to do with worshipping the sun, some kind of calendar or astronomical observatory; it’s about how this place was special to prehistoric people,” he said.
As well as being allowed to scrape away the layers of history under the newly-closed road, the dry and hot summer of 2013 has also helped to yield new information – thanks to a short hose.
English Heritage keep the grass around the stones well-watered to maintain the lush greenery, but the hose doesn’t reach one corner where the grass turned brown like much of the West this summer.
In the brown patch, two members of staff spotted discoloured areas of grass – or parchmarks – which are the tell-tale sign that mighty stones once stood there.
That means experts are now convinced – even though the presence of stones there once was not picked up on the high-tech surveying equipment over the years – that the outer sarsen circle would have been a complete circle.
“The problem is we’ve not had a decent dry summer in years,” said Prof Parker Pearson. “Stonehenge is regularly watered, and these have shown up only because the hose was too short.”
Local legend had Stonehenge built by Merlin, who brought the bluestones from Wales. For many years, it was assumed the stones’ alignment with the sunrise on the summer solstice meant its purpose was for sun worship. More practically, a follow-up theory had Stonehenge built as a huge and elaborate astronomical clock. One book claimed it was the landing marker for aliens.