Sunday 6 November 2016

The number 56 may not be arbitrary...


"There were 55 large oak posts within the circumference of the circle and one smaller upright timber. The timbers were set side by side in an elliptical circumference around an inverted oak tree.
Upon excavation timbers 35 and 37 were found to be the two forked branches of one trunk or branch."

Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society VOLUME 69, 2003
The Survey and Excavation of a Bronze Age Timber Circle at Holme-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, 1998–9 by Mark Brennand & Maisie Taylor


"There have been many proposed explanations for why the number of Aubrey Holes at Stonehenge is 56. Perhaps the most intriguing of these explanations, certainly at one time the most controversial, were the proposals that the Holes were used as counters for predicting lunar eclipses by keeping track of the passage of years (Hawkins 1965) or the passage of certain intervals of days (Hoyle 1977). It also has been suggested that the Aubrey Holes, again used as counters for various time intervals, could predict coincidences between the setting points of the midsummer sun and the new moon (Newton & Jenkins 1972) and even foretell amplitudes of tides on the English Channel and the North Sea (Beach 1977). While interesting, these primarily astronomically-based speculations seem somewhat contrived and ad hoc from a latter-day perspective. In fact, the implication that there was a practical significance to the number 56 and that the Aubrey Holes had an astronomical use is generally not now favoured. Rather, it is supposed that they basically served a ritualistic, ceremonial purpose and that there is nothing otherwise significant about the number of Holes (cf. Atkinson 1956, Burl 1981, Heggie 1981). Despite this current consensus, there is reason, besides the symmetrical layout of the Holes, to suspect that the number 56 at Stonehenge may not arbitrary."

THE AUBREY HOLES REVISITED C.T.Daub Department of Astronomy, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA 92182-0540, USA 1993
Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol.34:4/DEC, P. 563, 1993

The coincidence of there being 56 outer timbers at Seahenge was pointed out to me on my visit to see the fantastic exhibition of it at King's Lynn where I was generously shown round by Francis Pryor.


  1. There are a great number of completely unrelated theories which establish a rationale for "56" Aubrey Holes.
    Moon-Cycles / Sun-Cycles / Calendar / Degrees / Eclipses / Alignments / Divisions Of, and on ad nauseum.
    Some are thoughtful while others are downright off the chain goofy. Many of these different ideas do not intersect and do not require another for validity.

    The point is that 56 is probably not a random number.


    1. "Ritual" is not a random phenomenon. Or perhaps it is, where every monument has it's own components unrelated, and non-intersected with practice at any other monument.

      What are the theories that archaeology has brought forward that show that practice at one monument does not need to be validated by practice at another monument?

      What are the archaeological theories that point to 56 not being a random number but that it's use at Seahenge has nothing to do with its use at Stonehenge?

      Obviously, the solar alignments at Stonehenge, Woodhenge and Durrington Walls are all coincidence, and they all just serve a ritualistic purpose, which no one should be concerned about or waste time researching - just buy Stonehenge books "certified" by English Heritage, no need to waste money buying anyone else's book.


  2. LOL @ Richard for such scathing irony!

    My sense is that the various stone monuments were generational, incorporating local and regional concepts in whatever the point was in building them.

    As time drew on these concepts grew broader both in the area they served and the scope of their representation.

    That said, Stonehenge shows the number 56 was a feature which held meaning from its earliest incarnation, while divisions of this are demonstrated through the stone phase. But early Stonehenge isn't 'that old' in the scheme of things, so it follows that the number - at least regionally - may well turn out to be significant.


  3. Stonehenge's prehistoric 'international'(?)reputation and longstanding commitment to build and manage over generations, suggests a considerable amount of prebuilding practice of both scientific and religious content. Science and religion are two sides of the same coin, always have been. Progress in one significantly influences progress in the other, hence the oft dangerous occupation of a 'scientist' in the era of 'heresy' since imposition of Christianity as practised in recorded history's early days.

    Personally, I don't think it was much different in prehistory, except that the building of so many monuments of all kinds, including circles, suggests many elements of consensus, otherwise their survival over such a long time scale would have been unsustainable. Equally, I believe that any regional differences of approach and conclusion were treated with deserved respect, and not an underlying reason for social conflict. I don't think science ever was, except perhaps in rare cases, treated with dismissal and scientific minds were treated with equal respect and privileged with higher/elite status.

    I suppose most would agree that there are outlandish theories knocking about, but the vast majority of them are seriously launched and pursued. Unfortunately when it comes to 'numbers' there's a hurried dismissal of many of them when from alternative sources to academia, yet the latter has shown little if no positive movement on the subject for decades. Personally, I don't think that prehistoric scientists were ever treated with the same degree of disdain that the alternative genre are today!

    No need for detailed discussion, just felt the need to make the point - continued good luck with your book!