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  • The oldest observatories?

    The peoples who once inhabited the territory of Western Europe did not build pyramids. But in a number of cases they left behind themselves monuments, which cause no less surprise. We are talking about cromlechs - structures in the form of rings consisting of vertically buried stone monoliths. In England and Scotland, such rings with a diameter of two to 113 m found several hundred. The most majestic and best known of the cromlechs is Stonehenge( literally "stone shed"), located in the south-west of England, on the Salisbury Plain( Fig.).His age is estimated at 4000 years.

    Fig. Stonehenge

    In the center of this structure lies a stone measuring 4.8X1X0.5 m. Around it, in the form of a giant horseshoe, there were five triliths about 15 m long( now only three have been preserved completely).

    Each trilith consists of two vertical stones, on which the third is placed in the form of a crossbar( the name "trilith" and means "three stones": "cast" - in Greek stone).The height of triliths - 6, 6.5 and 7.2 m - increases to the center of the horseshoe, the mass of each of the stones reaches 40-50 tons. The distance between vertical stones of trilith does not exceed 30 cm.

    Triliths were covered by a ring of 30 vertical polished stones,each of which had a height of about 5.5 m, a width of 2.1 m, a thickness slightly larger than 1 m and a mass of about 25 tonnes. On these supports buried in the ground at a depth of 1.2 m, a ring of horizontal slabs was laid, each of whichhad a mass of about 7 tons. The diameter of this so-called sarsen ring is 29.6 m.

    Outside the sarsen ring are located respectively:

    1. Ring about 40 m in diameter, consisting of 30 holes.

    2. Ring with a diameter of about 53.4 m, also consisting of 30 holes.

    3. The so-called Aubrey ring, whose diameter is 88 m;it consists of 56 "Aubrey holes", the diameters of the holes and their depths varying from 0.8 to 1.8 m and from 0.6 to 1.2 m respectively, named after John Aubry, one of the first researchersStonehenge( XVII century.),

    Fig. Plan Sgounhenja

    Excavations have shown that all the holes mentioned after they were dug, were soon covered, and Aubrey's lobes - chipped chalk.

    Further behind the Aubry ring was an "inner" shaft - a grandiose ring about 6 m wide, at least 1.8 m high and about 100 m in diameter. This shaft was poured from dazzling white chalk. And, finally, the entire complex was surrounded by an external shaft( its diameter was 115 m, the width of the mound was 2.5 m, and the height was 50-80 cm), behind which there was another ring of individual pits - quarries from which material was extracted to pour the shaft.

    The entrance to Stonehenge( about 10 m wide) was made from the northeast;just in this direction the horseshoe trilith was opened. It is there, at a distance of about 85 m from the center of the complex, there is a stone pillar - menhir( "heel stone") 6 m high and weighing 35 tons.

    It has long been suggested that Stonehenge was a kind of astronomical observatory. In fact, being on the central platform of the complex, the observer can see through one of the arches of the sarsen ring that on the day of the summer solstice the Sun rises just above the menhir. In all subsequent( as well as previous) days, the sunrise point is to the right of the menhir, describing an arc of 78 ° along the horizon for half a year.

    Thus, registering the sunrise over the menhir, the builders of Stonehenge could measure the time intervals between the two summer solstices and thus keep a record of time in terms of the number of solar years, ie, use the solar calendar.

    Apparently, Stonehenge was also a kind of a temple: in several places there were found the remains of burnt human bones.

    Recently, J. Hawkins, with the help of a computer, compared the directions to the existing in Stonehenge reference points with the position of individual lights in the sky at the time of their rise and set. It turned out that almost all the "privileged" directions indicate the points of sunrise and sunset at different seasons. So Hawkins came to the conclusion that the architects of Stonehenge could use it also for predicting solar and lunar eclipses. In this case, Aubrey holes could be used as a computer socket. Using six stones and moving them annually to the next holes, the builders of Stone Hengj could foresee the year in which the eclipse took place at one or another time of the year. By rearranging the stone in the arches of the sarsen ring one day on a daily basis, they could also record the phases of the moon. Another version of the "Stonehenge computer" was proposed by us several years ago.

    Not far from Stonehenge is another ancient observatory - Woodhenge. And here are visible pits, forming six "concentric" ovals, the main axis of which is also directed to the point of sunrise on the day of the summer solstice.

    A fascinating tale of the megalithic structures of northwest Europe and their possible use by the ancient inhabitants of these places to observe the sun and the moon, for the prediction of eclipses and calendar calculations, can be found in J. Wood's book "The Sun, the Moon and the Ancient Stones"( Moscow: Mir, 1981).