Monday 15 May 2023

Ding Dong over Stonehenge timekeeping theory


Based on plan by Anthony Johnson, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In 2022 Tim Darvill wrote as an introduction to a paper: "Scholars have long seen in the monumental composition of Stonehenge evidence for prehistoric time-reckoning—a Neolithic calendar. Exactly how such a calendar functioned, however, remains unclear. Recent advances in understanding the phasing of Stonehenge highlight the unity of the sarsen settings. Here, the author argues that the numerology of these sarsen elements materialises a perpetual calendar based on a tropical solar year of 365.25 days. The indigenous development of such a calendar in north-western Europe is possible, but an Eastern Mediterranean origin is also considered. The adoption of a solar calendar was associated with the spread of solar cosmologies during the third millennium BC and was used to regularise festivals and ceremonies."   The full paper is freely available:
Darvill, T. (2022). Keeping time at Stonehenge. Antiquity, 96(386), 319-335. doi:10.15184/aqy.2022.5

His theory was not universally accepted.  My own simple take from it was a realisation that he had highlighted a triangulation of the outer sarsen ring where each of the nodes were placed where the stone settings are anomalous. I illustrated it above.

Earlier this year Magli and Belmonte published a critical response stating in their opinion: "that this proposal is unsubstantiated, being based as it is on a combination of numerology, astronomical error and unsupported analogy."
Their paper is behind a paywall:
Magli, G., & Belmonte, J. (2023). Archaeoastronomy and the alleged ‘Stonehenge calendar’. Antiquity, 1-7. doi:10.15184/aqy.2023.33
But it is available to download from Cornell University

Tim Darvill has now responded, and concludes: "In their conclusions, Magli and Belmonte propose that “matters such as ancient calendars, astronomical alignments and cultural astronomy should be reserved for specialists” in a way that suggests academic arrogance. Their attempts to undermine the central idea of a Stonehenge calendar by picking at the edges and exploiting acknowledged uncertainties ultimately fails, because their positivist agenda neglects the socio-cultural contexts in which prehistoric calendars were developed and operated. Most notable of all, however, is that Magli and Belmonte do not make any suggestions as to what the settings at Stonehenge might have meant, how they might have worked, or how they might have been used by prehistoric communities. Surely modern archaeoastronomy can do better?"
His full response is freely available: "Darvill, T. (2023). Times they are a-changin’: A response to Magli and Belmonte. Antiquity, 1-3. doi:10.15184/aqy.2023.61 

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