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Celestial processions at … guess where?

30 November 2011

An interesting story concerning Stonehenge and its environs has emerged – see for example www.artdaily.org/index.asp?int_sec=2&int_new=52033 … where it is said archaeologists from the University of Birmingham have found two large pits positioned on celestial alignments. It is being suggested these pits may have contained tall stones or wooden posts that were used to mark the rising and the setting of the Sun – and a procession associated with it. The idea that early farmers were in some way obsessed with the summer solstice is one of those memes that is oft repeated but rarely given much thought. The pits themselves have been found within the Cursus monument and this predates Stonehenge itself – usually dated somewhat before 3000BC.The pits, it is alleged, are aligned towards midsummer sunrise and sunset as viewed from the Heel Stone, an enigmatic standing stone situated just outside the entrance to Stonehenge. A lot of speculation has been made about the Heel Stone and when it was erected – and where it is pointing. The Cursus is situated to the north of Stonehenge but its purpose is subject, once again, to conjecture – but it is worth noting that in the Clube and Napier scenario one of the Taurid streams interacted with the Earth, periodically, a day or so before the summer solstice. If that is what they were interested in tracking one can understood all the trouble they went to – but merely recording the longest day of the year, surely that is such an insignificant event in the grand scheme of things? 

Professor Vince Gaffney is known from his work on the North Sea in the early to mid-Holocene, utilising the mapping of the sea bed made by the oil and gas industries. That was also centred at Birmingham and it seems this is all part of the geophysics survey of Stonehenge and its surroundings that began a year ago. After making one PR gaff they remained quiet – until now. Gaffney has weight – but he is referring essentially to the Cursus but has somehow transferred notions of Sun worship and processions of people carrying torches to the Cursus – or that is the implication of the journalist responsible for this piece. The Cursus, and indeed any cursus monument, and there are lots of them, are an interesting feature. On the ground the Stonehenge cursus is so faint one would not know it was there without the sign posting. At one time the ditch was obviously much deeper and more prominent but the ravages of time have nearly obliterated it. The two pits were likewise difficult to spot – which is where the geophysics survey came in handy. Basically, it is around 100m in width and two and a half km in length, a quite remarkable monument and one that has yet to be explained satisfactorily. In this piece a procession enters the cursus by an entrance that has been found on the north side and moreorless perambulates the length and breadth of the giant enclosure – taking most of a day to do so. All that comes from the discovery of a couple of post or stone holes – I'm sure there will be more to say on the subject. Incidentally, a great deal of other information has been found in the survey – yet to be publicised.  

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