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Beyond the Calendar: A New Perspective on the True Purpose of Stonehenge

The summer solstice at the famous ancient monument of Stonehenge.

Recent findings suggest that Stonehenge, the iconic megalithic circle in England, was not a giant solar calendar as previously thought. Instead, its structure symbolized the solar cycle and its importance to the afterlife and winter solstice in Neolithic societies.

Archaeoastronomy Provides New Insights into the Neolithic Builders’ Intentions and Connections to the Solar Cycle

Giulio Magli, a professor at Politecnico di Milano, and Juan Antonio Belmonte, a professor at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias and the University of La Laguna, have published a groundbreaking article in Antiquity, offering a new interpretation of Stonehenge’s purpose. Using archaeoastronomy – which often employs satellite imagery to study the orientation of archaeological sites – the researchers discovered that Stonehenge’s astronomical alignment with the sun is connected to both the summer solstice sunrise and the winter solstice sunset.

The True Purpose of Stonehenge

In their paper, Magli and Belmonte debunk the theory that Stonehenge was a giant calendrical device based on a 365-day year divided into 12 months, with a leap year added every four years. This calendar mirrors the Alexandrian one, which emerged over two millennia later in the first century BC, combining the Julian and Egyptian civil calendars. The authors argue that this theory relies on forced interpretations of the monument’s astronomical connections, debatable numerology, and unsupported analogies.

The issue of astronomy

Magli and Belmonte first address the issue of astronomy, demonstrating that the sun’s slow movement along the horizon near the solstices renders it impossible to track the calendar using the massive stones accurately. The device would need to distinguish positions as precise as a few arc minutes or less than 1/10 of one degree. Secondly, the researchers tackle numerology, cautioning that attributing meanings to numbers in a monument can be perilous. For instance, a key number in the alleged calendar, 12, is not identifiable anywhere in Stonehenge.

Cultural comparisons

Lastly, the authors discuss cultural comparisons, noting that the first elaboration of the 365-day-plus-one calendar is documented in Egypt, two millennia after Stonehenge’s construction, and was only implemented centuries later. Furthermore, no archaeological evidence supports the transfer and elaboration of ideas between Egypt and Stonehenge around 2600 BC. These new findings shed light on Stonehenge’s true purpose, highlighting its symbolic significance in the solar cycle and its connection to Neolithic societies’ beliefs about the afterlife and winter solstice.

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