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Stone Circles and Henges

21 August 2016

Surprisingly, SIS has not published a great deal on stone circles as far as major articles are concerned. It tends to have been small pieces and letters. These were mostly in early Newsletters and Workshops. Kronos on the other hand, did rather better when it came to Alexander Thom, but one got the impression they were more interested in authors critical of his discoveries rather than favouring them. The Kronos editorial staff appear to have downgraded the idea of ancient people taking an interest in the Moon or the Sun as that was counter to the idea that a Venus comet was the object they should have been looking at. Obviously, once you have established the movements of the Moon and the Sun one can track the course of time and therefore any kind of object that is likely to be on a regular earth crossing orbit. In spite of this articles by the likes of Douglas Heggie were very good and were not particularly anti-Thom but represent a second look at some of Thom's alignments (which is always a good thing). Thom was not an armchair man and was quite prepared to spend the day in the Scottish uplands in lashing rain and wind in order to make a survey of a remote stone circle. In that sense it was always difficult to follow in his footsteps and required considerable drive and self motivation.  Academic critics were therefore hobbled but they were convinced he was exaggerating the abilities of the Neolithic and Bronze Age people of Britain. In the mainstream view people living at that time were not very bright and Britain was a backwater. A lot of that has changed of late but would the establishment still not resist the notion of an astronomer priest-hood as envisaged by MacKie, for example. One has to suppose the reality was somewhere in the middle – a concern for events going on in the sky coupled with a rudimentary knowledge of the engineering involved. Thom was an engineer and academics do not like engineers interfering in their affairs – a form of snobbery if you like, a recognition of a pecking order in which they assumed they were close to the perch at the top. Engineers get their hands dirty – academics can polish their fingernails. 

However, SIS did publish a series of articles by an American engineer, Moe Mandelkehr, and one of these has the title 'Megalithic Circles and Star Charts' which is worth reading (Chronology and Catastrophism Review 2004:2). Mandelkehr is interesting as he was never involved in Velikovsky style catastrophism and neither does he quote from Velikovsky style articles. He seems to have become involved in SIS as a medium to publish his studies which later developed into a book with the title, 'The 2300BC Event' which comes in 3 volumes, the  first of which concerns the science (archaeology, geology, astronomy etc) and the two others concern mostly folklore and mythology (which can have wildly different interpretations). One of his ideas in that respect was that Earth had a temporary ring of ice crystals and meteoric dust and debris as the idea of a magical ring is a common mythic motif (exploited by Tolkien in Lord of the Rings, basically a search for a lost ring). In mythic terms this would be a ring in the sky (assuming some mythic stories are about events in the sky rather than on terra firma). Hence, in his article he is keen to associate stone circles with 2300BC when in fact round henges first occur around 3200BC. Alexander Thom also dated a lot of stone circles between 2300 and 2000BC so Mandelkehr had at least one ally yet never used him (possibly because the anti-Thom movement had been fairly successful at the time). Mandelkehr always hoped his work would go mainstream – but this never happened.

Before proceeding it is worth pointing out that MGL Baillie, dendrochronologist at Queens University at the time, had a major low growth event at 2345BC, followed by another one around 150 years later. In Egyptian terms this corresponds to end of dynasty 5 and end of dynasty 6 (and the beginning of the First Intermediate Period with endemic famine and civil unrest). In Babylonian terms this pans out end of the Early Dynastic Sumerian phase and end of Akkad (empire). The Akkadians migrated in large numbers into what is now Iraq after the first event and were decimated after the second one (Marie Agnes Courty had an article on the end of Akkad in the Proceedings of the 1997 SIS Cambridge Conference, organised by Benny Peiser, now involved in the anti-CAGW movement at the GWPF). In the Levant it corresponds to end of Early Bronze 3 and end of Early Bronze 4. This is an important point to bear in mind as Mandelkehr conflates both events into one (or rather, his event is not confined to a single date but encompasses the whole period 2300-2000BC).

Mandelkehr was well aware that Stonehenge had two major changes, one at 2350 and the other around 2200BC. He quotes Bradley in World Archaeology volume 23 (1991) page 216, who said 'this may show their interest in changes in cosmology' which appears to be rather astute (what had he been reading). He points out that although Stonehenge gets all the publicity there are hundreds of circular structures and the timing of erection seems to coincide with Stonehenge and its rearrangements between 2500 and 1700BC (probably all the way down to the low growth event at 1628-5BC). The majority of archaeologists and historians supposed the changes were associated with an introduction of new religious ideas and ritual and this had something to do with the arrival of the Bell Beaker culture. There was a couple of SIS bits and pieces on this in the past with the suggestion that not so much a migration but rather a new cult arrived involving the use of bell beakers. However, as Mandelkehr showed elsewhere (in an earlier SIS article) migrations were a consistent aspect of the 2300BC event (and earlier and later events). Archaeology also seems to show that people entered Britain at this time from the continent – but whether they introduced a new cult ritual is another question. The thrust of the article was then to show that circular earthworks and stone circles were not confined to western or central Europe but are common throughout the world, the idea being to put a nail in the Beaker folk connection (as an absolute explanation). For example there are roughly 80 stone circles in SW Ireland dated between 2500 and 2000BC but the Beaker Folk are not thought to have reached that location (although the recent discovery of a circular structure in Iberia with beaker pottery sherds may alter that perspective as SW Ireland was on a major sea lane). Japan is interesting as it is, like Britain an island offshore a continent where cultural influences originated, and Japan has some interesting mythological stories that appear to closely mirror some of the Arthurian tales. It's a long way from the Bell Beaker folk so represents a reasonable test for Mandelkehr's theory of universal interest in a ring in the sky. The transition between Middle Jomon and Late Jomon is around 2300-2000BC. Many MJ sites were abandoned at this time, he says, coinciding with the appearance of circular banked earth enclosures, stone enclosures with sunken stone pillars in the centre, and circular wooden pole enclosures. They also include ellipse and oval circles, which was one of the major points made by Thom. Very often stone circles in Britain are not circular but elliptical in shape (which may reflect the position of the builders in relation to the ring in the sky). The Japanese structures are also aligned to the Sun and the Moon at the solstices and equinoxes as well as dates significant to the Japanese. 

Mandelkehr, as an American, then introduces the so called Medicine Wheels that can be found from Alberta across the corner of Saskatchewan into Montana, Wyoming, N Dakota and Colorado. They are generally located on hill tops – directly facing the sky. The soil is thin in such locations and they appear to be etched out using stones and rocks as well as earth. In the Levant there are 5 concentric stone circles on the Golan Heights (dated to the end of the 3rd millennium BC). At 100km away, SE of Damascus, stone circles dated to the EB4 period have been found, and further north, 200km NE of Damascus, there are others (also dated EB4). They also exist in Yemen, we are told, but when he gets around to talking about stone circles with tails in Arabia (undated in the 1990s) in large numbers he can only be referring to what are actually hunting structures designed to funnel animals such as gazelle into a central killing zone (much like the duck decoys built on medieval estates in the UK). He is on better ground when he moves on to Australia and Aboriginal 'boro' circles (ceremonial grounds) which are said to reflect the sky world. However, when he reaches the Early Helladic site of Lerna in the Aegean we learn that it was completely destroyed around 2300BC, possibly as a result of earthquakes as much as heavenly phenomena, and he introduces something else. The excavation report is pretty thorough and mention is made of an unusual structure in the ruins – a circle of stones 19m in diameter which enclosed a zone of debris. The circle had been carefully laid out and the debris was graded. Earth was brought in to form a mound over the debris (which also contained burnt wreckage and fallen material from the House of Tiles). The shape appeared to resemble a shield – which is interesting as shining shields of gold or bronze play a role in Germanic mythology. Mandelkehr then quotes from C Klinkenberg, 'The Thunder weapons in Religion and Folklore' (Cambridge University Press:1911, page 14, which is probably available on the old books archive on the net). He said that places struck by lightning in various parts of Greece were consecrated to Zeus, the god of the thunderbolt (either lightning or meteor). Something similar was suggested regards Seahenge, a circular wooden enclosure with an upturned tree in the centre which had possibly been struck by lightning (and dated around 2000BC).

The article continues by discussing Duncan Steel and an event in 3200BC as well as the circle of the constellation as occurs in Egyptian star charts (which he suggests began around 2300BC). He also claims Sumerian or Babylonian interest in the sky began at the same time citing cuneiform texts that do not seem to mention the sky. However, this is primarily due to the fact writing in Sumeria was invented and mainly used for commercial purposes (the buying and selling of goods and services). Presumably archaeologists dug out a trade emporium archive rather than a temple archive, or religious documentation was preserved in an older more primitive format that has yet to be discovered. However, it's a good point in that Mandelkehr can draw in the obvious interest in the sky with his 2300-2000BC event. Yesterday, I drew attention to an astrological web site which seemed to say something similar. The Egyptians divided the constellations into 36 decans and the Babylonians into 12. The Greeks are said to have been influenced by both cultures – but there must also have been a Greek interest in the sky prior to Greek imperial expansion under Alexander the Great. This is what scholars underestimate.   


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