The Stone Age mandate was formulated by a people whose ambitions knew no bounds. People looked for a way of manufacturing a second sun that would keep them warm during Britain’s hard cold winters and to grow cereals like wheat and barley the whole year round...
Having waited patiently for the mid-June sun to rise at the Stonehenge site, its builders then spent the rest of the day at Durrington Walls to watch the sun go down. And if you heard it any other way, then you heard wrong!
First, let’s consider Stonehenge…
This picture is based on a photograph taken by Mark Bettles in 2002 while standing in the middle of Stonehenge’s solstice doorway between pillars 1 and 30. The picture also demonstrates how the moon occasionally exceeds the sun by travelling some 10-degrees further north. So; the sun goes nowhere where the moon hasn’t already been.
The yellow line to the left of the Heel Stone marks the main axis of Stonehenge. This axis points 50-degrees clockwise from north. The sun rose about one-degree to the left of the yellow line when Stonehenge was built.
Stonehenge's Heel Stone. Facing 10 or 11-degrees more northerly than Stonehenge’s axis, the front face of the Heel Stone points at the moon. The proof, which no one seems to have noticed, can be gleaned from John Wood’s 1740 survey of Stonehenge. The next picture gives that very plan-view...
The last time the moon visited her northernmost position, otherwise known as the Major Standstill, was way back in 2005/2006. The next Major Standstill will therefore take place around the middle of 2024. The good news is that when the time comes, she will stick around for a year or more, and, weather permitting, should put in a showing or two.
Hopefully, English Heritage will allow photographers to enter Stonehenge during the many unsociable hours needed to get those pictures of the northernmost moon. But if not, then you photographers get yourself off to some other monument instead - there are plenty more good targets mentioned in these pages.
Stonehenge’s Heel Stone.
Note how the Heel Stone axis crosses the solstice axis. What better way could there be of bringing the sun and moon together? We also find the same principle in operation at Durrington walls.
Before English Heritage got around to placing its vastly over-exaggerated and false information boards alongside Woodhenge and Durrington Walls, visitors to the more obvious Woodhenge site would often ask, “Where is the massive henge known as Durrington Walls?” Both monuments are shown in the above picture.
With modern concrete posts to represent what were once massive tree trunks several feet tall, Woodhenge can be seen entering the picture from the right, whereas the snow-covered horizon marks Durrington Walls’ far bank. More of Durrington's bank can be seen on the left but it’s not snow-covered.
The snow was left behind by the ‘Beast-from-the-East’ - a cold snap that came across from Siberia in 2018.
Durrington Walls’ near bank, or what is left of it, thanks to many years under the plough, is just beyond the line of parked cars. This too is marked with snow. Note the red vehicle on the extreme right of this picture, because the next photo was taken from in front of it. Beyond the trees to the right of the picture can be seen another section of Durrington’s bank. This too, is highlighted with snow. Passing through those trees is the Countess Road, built in 1965. This built-up highway is elevated several feet above the combe, or valley, which early folk had cordoned off to build Britain’s largest henge. Now note the blue farm vehicle parked beneath the embankment of the new road, because that vehicle very nearly marks the centre of the timber monument known as the “Southern Circle.” Unfortunately, two-thirds of the circle now lies hidden beneath the embankment.
The old road, little more than a track, goes over Durrington’s denuded bank before taking a dip through the centre of the valley.
Most of Durrington Walls has been completely flattened due to ploughing. This was fortunate in some ways because loose chalk and hill-wash found its way downhill to protect the monuments lower down - especially so the Southern Circle of timber. Prehistoric remains at the top of the combe lost their cover and were not so lucky.
Imagine for a moment what this picture looked like when first built. Using nothing more than deer-tines for picks, cattle shoulder-blades as spades, and woven baskets to carry the spoil in, Bronze Age folk removed the chalk from a 400-metres diameter, 5-metre-deep-ditch that surrounded the combe and used the spoil to build a pure white bank some 4-metres high that hemmed-in the whole thing. And, if that bank were rebuilt today, it would blank-out much of the sky in the above picture.
Now note the narrow footpath in the right foreground, because a little further along it is where the next photograph was taken from.
The river to which the Southern Circle was connected, via an avenue of hard-packed chalk with flints, can be seen behind the van and through the trees. This view of the Avenue (superimposed onto the photograph) gives one the idea that perhaps the Southern Circle was meant to slide into the river.
The Stonehenge Riverside Project, led by Professor Pearson, found five houses alongside this avenue, covered beneath what once was Durrington's bank. These houses were small square affairs measuring 6 by 6 megalithic yards. Their positions are marked with small splodges of snow.
Hoping to solve the age-old mystery of when folk had gathered to celebrate at Durrington Walls - i.e., was it summertime or winter - Britain’s top archaeoastronomer Professor Clive Ruggles of Leicester University was invited to find out exactly what the Avenue points at.
Clive proved the Avenue's axis to aim at where the sun sets in June beneath Durrington’s north-western bank. This also agrees with the alignment found by the astronomer Professor John North, sometime previous to 1996.
So, the Stonehenger’s celebrated the setting summer solstice at Durrington Walls, not the winter. Pigs borne in October were brought from all around the country to be slaughtered at Durrington when 9-months old. Those pigs, or piglets, whose short lives represented the human gestation period, were obvious offerings to the sun and moon.
But what was the exact azimuth that Ruggles had found? Well, I don’t know, and I’m not about to ask.
If you want a job doing right, do it yourself. So, on solstice day 21st June 2018, you might have seen me standing close to the blue tractor that marks the position of the Southern Circle while I waited for the summer sun to go down.
It came as a bit of a shock to find that the sunset can no longer be seen from the position of the Southern Circle because of bushes that are allowed to grow alongside the old road. So, a hurried leaping of a few fences were made to get to a better position.
I did manage to get a beautifully clear picture of the sun going down beneath Durrington’s north-western bank, but this alone was not enough to help determine the azimuth of the Avenue. The final determination was achieved by superimposing the sun's position onto both Professor Wainwright's original plans and also satellite images from Bing.
The sunset at Durrington Walls is a spectacle that must be seen. Especially so for the feeling it gives when you climb out of the henge and find its still daytime!
The so-called ‘Sex-Pit’ found in the middle of the Avenue held a female pelvis of natural flint, together with four male phalli and several pairs of flint balls. As far as I am aware, an in-situ picture showing these male and female artefacts together, has never been published. And for obvious reasons!
Furthermore, it could be argued by many, me included, that the avenue leading to the river has long been expected to exist. Professor John North for another, when in 1996 he wrote - The distance between the centre of the Southern Circle and the river is 200 megalithic yards.
One vital discovery is the finding of a clear break in the outer circuit to the north-east. That break is at the very point where a midden, complete with beaker and other pottery sherds, plus numerous animal bones, axes and flints, were found together in a mass of burnt ashes a third of a metre thick. This midden, like others of its type, was packed with stone age ingredients and appears like an eye dropper that patiently waits to dispense its fertile contents into the circle at the time of the setting moon!
Archaeologists accept that the Southern Circle is connected to Stonehenge; first by the avenue that goes down to the river Avon, then along the river until it reached a circle of stones situated on the north bank of the river and near to the town of Amesbury.
Outer Ring A
Durrington's Southern Circle consisted of at least three eggs, all pointing different ways, so we can leave Durrington for a while and return to Stonehenge. Please press the Stonehenge Geometry Button