Stones may be meteor mapper

December 15, 1995

The first Stonehenge was built to observe terrifying meteor storms plaguing the skies - and may have been part of a massive cultural change as people united to cope, an astronomer has claimed.

The function of Stonehenge has attracted as many theories as the assassination of President Kennesy, according to Duncan Steel, of the Anglo-Australian observatory in Australia. But he believes that its layout and astronomical evidence point to major activity in the skies at the time which could have endangered people's lives.

The Stonehenge we think of today is Stonehenge 3, probably built as a lunar and solar observatory and eclipse predictor. Stonehenge 2 was "a brief, largely inconsequential episode", says Dr Steel.

But Stonehenge 1 is a circular ditch and bank, inside which are 56 filled-in pits known as the Aubrey Holes, and a large rock just outside known as the Heel Stone. Eclipse prediction would have been too complicated a function for that time, says Dr Steel.

He believes that the Taurids, a periodic meteor shower associated with Encke's Comet, were producing phenomenal meteor storms 4,500-5,000 years ago, accompanied by atmospheric detonations. As people came together in "warfare against the sky", Stonehenge 1 was designed to allow the "awestruck, terrified culture of southern England to make observations of the phenomena and to perhaps predict their recurrence". The orientation "maps out on the heavens where the meteors were coming from".

But Clive Wruggles, senior lecturer in archaeology at Leicester University and a former astrophysicist, said: "The function of the early Stonehenge attracts a lot of theories. There are many archaeologists who don't believe that astronomy was incorporated into the site."

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