Monday, 24 March 2014

The Heel Stone and the Horizon

Reading W M Flinder Petrie's Stonehenge book I came across the following passage:
(The Heel stone) has a remarkably peaked top, which is unlike that of any other stone there, and which gives a definite horizon azimuth. Is, then, the peak to be observed from the middle of the entrance, or from the slit between the middle trilithon? First, the entrance is 50 inches wide, and its middle is not easily settled without measurement; whereas the slit between the trilithon was only 13 inches wide, about the same as the peak of the Heel stone, the estimated middle of which would give a good definite azimuth on a length of 3400 inches. Next, the horizon is invisible at the entrance, the peak of the Heel rising far above it; and it is only on retreating up the slight rise, to behind the middle trilithon, that the horizon is seen on the level of the peak, by an eye at a fair height of 65 inches from the ground; behind the circle the peak is seen below the horizon. From both these reasons, it seems nearly certain that the point of observation was intended to be from behind the trilithon, to the peak of the Heel stone; as any place between the entrance and the trilithon shares the disadvantages of the former.
An old postcard shows the horizon from the middle of the  circle before trees obscured it:

I took a stroll into the circle to see the changes now and how the Heel stone rises up to the horizon as one walks in.
The photos were all taken at approx 65" from gound level and can be clicked to enlarge.

From beyond the bank

From the Aubrey Hole ring

From the outer stone circle

From behind the Great Trilithon

From the centre


  1. Flinder Petrie's comments are useful but incomplete. Tim's comments and photos are useful but also miss the real point (sorry---pun intended). If the real intention of the planning of these aligned stones was as suggested by Petrie, only one or two men standing in the critical position at the focus of Stonehenge would ever see the sun and Heel Stone just right. By contrast, I have a report from an observer who was INSIDE at the Altar Stone on MS morning on a clear-sky sunrise many years ago, and he saw that the shadow cast by the Heel Stone came through the 30/01 arch and reached to where the Altar Stone is. That is to say, on such a morning there could have been hundreds of spectators watching from beyond the circular ditch and bank who actually saw the phallic shadow of the Heel Stone penetrate the medial vulvar arch formed by Stones 30 and 1. I have been invited by the committee to give a lecture on this at the World Conference on Archaeology (UISPP) in Spain this September (1st to 7th) with added proof from other monuments. I am running a session there called "Standing Stones and Megalithic Monuments in Context". I welcome offers of lecture contributions additional to those already proposed and accepted. Check the UISPP web site and their Facebook pages. My address is

    1. That's probably the best explanation to date on why the Heel Stone was re-positioned (tilted) from its original upright seating, by the druids, when the site was adapted to solar worship.