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Speculations on Stonehenge

  • Fred Hoyle

Proposals that Stonehenge was con- structed as an astronomical observatory [1, 2, 3] with the purpose of predicting eclipses [4, 5] imply that the builders of Stonehenge, even Stonehenge I, were possessed of a degree of intellectual sophistication that seems inconsistent with the usual picture of the population of S. England in the and millennium B.C. Either the people were not just primitive farmers or these proposals must be substantially in error. It is not the purpose of this paper to attempt a decision between these alternatives but to explain the nature of the astronomical arguments in more detail than has been done heretofore. My hope is that with a moderate effort it will be possible for the reader to rework the calculations on which the astronomical suggestions have been based; for only when archaeologists and astronomers have understood each other's arguments can we expect to resolve this intriguing dilemma. At several places in the discussion I shall quote the solution of mathematical problems, thereby permitting the whole discussion to be confined to simple trigonometry. These few places will be marked by an asterisk. The reader wishing to cover these gaps will need to consult a text on spherical astronomy, e.g. [6].

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[1] Thorn, A., J. Brit. Ast. Soc., 64, 396 (1954).

[2] Newharn, C. A., Yorkshire Post, 16th March, 1963; Nature, 211, 456 (1966).

[3] Hawkins, G. S., Nature, 200, 1963, 306 .

[4] Hawkins, G. S., Nature, 202, 1964, 1258 .

[5] Hoyle, F., Nature, 211, 1966, 454 .

[6] Smart, W. M., Spherical Astronomy (Cambridge, 1956).

[7] Hawkins, G. S., Stonehenge Decoded (London, 1966).

[8] Atkinson, R. J. C., Antiquity, 1966, 212.

Professor Fred Hoyle, F.R.S. , is Plumian Projessor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy in the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of St John's College. His published works include The Nature of the Universe, Frontiers of Astronomy and Man in the Universe. In this article he begins with an appraisal of Professor Gerald Hawkins's theory of Stonehenge as an astronomical observatory, and goes further, arguing that the Aubrey Holes form a protractor, not a counting device, and putting vividly the dispute between archaeologists and astronomers as between the two questions ‘How did they do it?’ and ‘How would we do it?’ We are asking Professor Richard Atkinson, Professor Stuart Piggott, Professor Alexander Thom and Dr D. H. Sadler as well as, of course, Professor Hawkins, to comment on this article. We hope to print their comments in March, and Jacquetta Hawkes has kindly agreed to summarize the discussion for the benefit of those readers whose trigonometry is not all that it might be.

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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