Thursday, 22 December 2011

Winter solstice

Today is December 22, 2011, the Winter Solstice, the probable original reason for us having Christmas in the middle of winter, to replace Roman Saturnalia and other pagan celebrations that are related to this date. If there is any archaeological landscape, which can be associated with Winter Solstice – or any solstice – it is the Stonehenge landscape. The actual direction from which the sun rose or to which went down at any past moment or the visibility of any other star is a matter of archaeo-astrological calculations, carried out in case of Stonehenge with prior knowledge by Clive Ruggles and published in 2001. It may well be that the stones were raised in order to celebrate astrological event(s), if not the ancestors, buried in and around the enclosure, as Mike Parker Pearson suggests. The strong directly visible veneration and evaluation of this landscape as a religious landscape is a recent phenomenon, related to the needs of modern pagan religion.

David Field’s and Trevor Pearson’s Stonehenge World Heritage Site Landscape Project report published in 2010 gives a thorough plan of this landscape in the state it exists today. In order to consider the relationship between different phases and different features inside and outside the circle and the related earthworks AND winter solstice would require thorough astronomical calculations together with the complete deconstruction of this monument. Nevertheless, one can suggest that the earthworks and the stones as they are preserved underline the importance of south-western–north-eastern alignment. This emphasizes the direction of the Woodhenge, although the Avenue seems to curve to a totally different direction. However, if one arrived along it and stopped at the so-called Heel stone the slope towards the south-west was rising, as if to raise something on show either inside the circle or to bring the circle to frame something more clearly.

The photo from last year in E. Duffy's blog

The importance and the emotional effect of the event of seeing a rising sun through the gaps between the stones is without doubt. The beautiful photographs and long treaties on the Celtic aspects of pagan religion are evidence of this. Similarly, the mental importance of this landscape at Winter Solstice and throughout the year is evident from the number of projects, reports and articles devoted to it in archaeological literature and the discussions among the archaeological community.

Pollard, J., and Ruggles, C. L. N., 2001. 'Shifting perceptions: spatial order, cosmology, and patterns of deposition at Stonehenge', Cambridge Archaeological Journal 11(1), 69–90.


  1. Season's greetings.
    While the Solstice may be a significant event in most religious calendars,and may be reflected in alignment of structures, it has to be remembered that Stonehenge was a building, just like Woodhenge, although the latter was domestic.
    The sarsens were raised as a 'load bearing wall' to carry the weight of the roof of the building along with the trilithons. This building contained the bluestones.
    While MPP may be an expert on how people we have never met perceived landscapes we have have never seen, like most post-processualists, he is structurally illiterate, and incapable of understanding such structures on a rational basis.
    This phase of the structure predates the 'Celtic' period by at least a thousand years, although Stonehenge would have been a ruin by this stage.

  2. I refer to 'Celtic' as has been done by some modern pagans describing their religious calendar.

  3. Hi Ulla,
    I was teasing a bit about the Celtic, and certainly if they had colour photography . . . but there is an important point here; modern approaches to archaeology that project beliefs conceived in the C20th onto people of the Neolithic and Bronze Age, - risk being about as valid as modern Paganism and its conceptions about the monument.
    One has to ask who is picking up vibes from the stones?
    Apart from a few basic alignments which are common throughout Neolithic and BA Eurasia, none of this stuff is implicit in the evidence.
    Both are faith based approaches, as neither the modern druid or the professor, have any real evidence, both imagine the past through the eyes of people who left no records, and are simply projecting their own beliefs onto a blank canvas.
    [This is not good for professional archaeologists like myself, if I tell you it was a building, it is because I can demonstrate that to be true].
    The reason I am pushing your button on this is because I think you are in danger of romanticizing the past - how do you plead?