The Rollright Stones & Astroarchaeology
The Science?Over the years it has been conjectured that buildings and monuments of antiquity throughout the world were aligned on significant astronomical events (for example the rising of the mid summer sun). This theory was investigated in as a scientific manner as possible by Alexander Thom (1894-1985) with respect to British megalithic stone circles. Although some of the finer points of his theories have been challenged, on the whole it has been generally accepted that his ideas provide sound argument for there indeed being such alignments, other monument examples in a similar vein being Newgrange passage grave in Ireland and Maes Howe in Orkney where at specific times of the year sunlight travels down the passage and lights up the tomb interior.
The Fiction?Much has been written and televised regarding the mystery surrounding stone circles. The pyramids, lost civilisations and alien intervention have all been mooted to account for their construction. No doubt these theories provide much entertainment and are lucrative for their authors. It is necessary, though, to consider some important archaeological precedents to account for the existence of stone circles like the Rollrights. The existence of megalithic monuments in Europe are now generally thought of as being social monuments. Their functions were possibly not unlike many buildings that we use today. Megalithic tombs may have been the equivalent of churches (or houses for the dead) and henges or stone circles possibly communal areas or trading posts. Whilst they appear mysterious to many of us, one needs to realise that important henges and stone circles such as Stonehenge were originally laid out around 3100bc (the first stepped Egyptian pyramid was built 2630). A Notable example is the famous Thornborough henge system that despite being arranged like the three most famous pyramids of Egypt actually dates from 3500bc.(so by also predating the first stepped pyramid) and debunks certain theories relating to direct age association (although there may still be a celestial link).
The facts!Archaeology, and in particular the archaeology of the Rollright Stones is a specialised area and as an amateur astronomy group we would not even dare guess what it all really means. (we are interested in celestial objects mainly after all!) For the definitive, professional excavation report regarding the rollright stones and what they actually represent at present we recommend George Lambrick’s report of the 1980s which is the most authoritative text available. It is published by English Heritage and is still available from time to time in specialised collectors bookshops (it can be rather expensive so check out your local county records office for a copy to look at). It is a great read and scholarly.
Left is a picture taken by Mark Morris showing a piece of art at the Rollright stones in 2004 created by Anish Kapoor entitled ‘turning the world inside out’. The reflective surface of the metal sphere acting as a metaphor for the cyclical nature of cosmic regeneration.
The future?So what about the astroarchaeology surrounding the Rollright Stones and astroarchaeology in general. It would be interesting for CNAAG to determine star precession from now dating back to when the circle was created, so by assessing any celestial alignments with the stones themselves, and then take into account the geographical importance of the circle, the type of stone circle and its similarities to others. Do other stone circles have celestial alignments similar to the Rollrights? Is the king stone also a celestial marker? These and many other questions could be asked and would make a good CNAAG project. If you are interested in this particular offshoot of astronomy or have any thoughts, experience or criticism then come along to the next CNAAG meeting or contact one of the main contacts on this website – the group as a whole is interested. We are all amateurs and it is all just fun and our views are not necessarily the right ones (or maybe they are) and all views and opinions are as valid as anyone else's Mark Morris 23/10/2006 This may go back even further. D 24/9/2010