The meaning of ancient stone monuments then and now

Stonehenge from above

In Britain and Brittany, over 900 circles and other monuments employing standing stones were constructed in pre-Celtic times, from 3500 to 1500 B.C.E.  The “circles” show definite orientations and shapes that reveal great astronomical knowledge as well as a cultural calendar from which, for instance, our Halloween originates.  Some sites clearly were used for making precise astronomical measurements, and employ few stones, while others embody that knowledge in “temples” such as Stonehenge, Avebury, Callanish, and others.  John Hitchcock has visited dozens of these sites from Carnac and Cornwall to the Outer Hebrides and Orkney, and will share photos as well as knowledge of what has been learned about them and their builders.

Four two-hour sessions:

I. Overview of the many kinds of standing stone rings and other monuments. The Megalithic builders used precise measurements and amazing geometric ideas in laying out and building their stone monuments.  The “megalithic yard” and the geometry of the rings.  The “engineering” feats of the builders.  The dating of the monuments.

II., III. What they knew: The astronomical knowledge demonstrated by the orientation of stone alignments is nothing short of fantastic.  The Moon follows a very complicated pattern of rising and setting points that varies over an 18.6 year cycle.  All the critical points in this cycle are clearly indicated in the alignments.  The largest lunar observatory, in the Carnac region of Brittany, had a central sighting stone that stood nearly seven stories above the ground and weighed 350 tons, six times the weight of the heaviest stones at Stonehenge.  The sighting lines were 10 miles long.

IV. These monuments antedated the Druids by 1500 years or more.  Their astronomical orientations have survived by their placements, but any original mythology of the builders has been lost; only some figures carved into some of the stones give any clue.  However, some myths grew about them in later times, and we will consider the power of the stones to evoke mystery.

Instructor:  John L. Hitchcock.  Four Wednesdays beginning October 9th, each evening from 7-9 pm.  Fee:  $20 for 4 sessions due on the first night of class.