Archaeoastronomy

Astronomical interpretations of megaliths go back to the 18th century when William Stukeley found Stonehenge to be aligned towards the sunrise at midsummer, and John Smith interpreted it as a calendar and an 'astronomical temple'. Speculations about the astronomical significance of megaliths continued throughout the 19th century. Modern archaeoastronomy came into being mainly from the work of Sir J.Norman Lockyer (1836–1920) who investigated the astronomical significance not only of megaliths but also of Egyptian pyramids and Greek temples. More recently, the sub-discipline was shaped during the 1960s and 1970s by the work of Gerald Hawkins, Alexander Thom, C.A.Newham and Fred Hoyle, for whom Stonehenge again was of major significance as a case-study (see Michell 1989).

Comprehensive web-pages about archaeoastronomy are maintained by

In Germany, after beginnings in the 19th century, Wilhelm Teudt and Rolf Müller (1970) were the principal investigators of the astronomical significance of megaliths during the early and mid 20th century. More recently, critical studies by Rüdiger Heinrich (1988) and Volker Bialas (1988) have also been published.

It is clear that archaeoastronomy is one very distinctive modern reception of megaliths. Astronomical interpretations of megaliths form part of the wider history culture and inform the cultural memory of our society. For Wolfgang Seidenspinner, archaeoastronomy can be seen as a modern equivalent to the old folktales about megaliths (Seidenspinner 1989: 36-9; 1993: 12-3). It is hardly coincidental that archaeoastronomy has developed considerably, and gained an astonishing popularity, since the 1960s, when computers and increasingly space programmes were being developed.

Often archaeoastronomers approach megaliths as 'denk-mals' in the sense that the stones pose a riddle, or puzzle, to them, which needs to be solved. Many archaeoastronomers have considerable admiration for the achievements of the megaliths' builders, and sometimes they are perhaps also affected by a touch of nostalgia. More importantly, however, is the potential of megaliths for extensive quantitative studies which archaeoastronomers enjoy so much. Archaeologists do not normally show a lot of interest in such astronomical interpretations of prehistoric monuments, although there are exceptions such as the British archaeologists Richard Atkinson and Clive Ruggles (see also Bialas 1988).
In Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, three sites in particular have been studied in terms of their astronomical significance. These are

Regarding possible astronomical alignments of other megaliths in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Ewald Schuldt (1972: 70) stated that 46 of the megaliths investigated by him were orientated North-South, 26 East-West, 14 Northeast-Southwest and 13 Northwest-Southeast. Although Schuldt does not give detailed and precise measurements, Günther Kehnscherper has taken the figures as evidence for deliberate astronomical significances in megalithic architecture (1990: 168).
The amateur Monika Kruse has recently conducted a study of megaliths which is based entirely on a geometrical analysis (1997; 1999). Although she does not make reference to the stars, her research is related to archaeoastronomical work, in as much as it is also a contribution to 'megalithic science' (Heggie 1981). The aim of Kruse's studies was to find a geometrical 'megalithic formula' which can explain their purpose. To this end she studied Ernst Sprockhoff's maps of megaliths in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, looking for regular triangles among the connecting lines. She claims to have found them in the areas of Pustow and in Liepen as well as in several other places outside Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Unfortunately the (old) maps on which her work is based are not only in a very large scale, but often also incomplete and sometimes contain considerable mistakes. Such problems do not, however, seem to be able to distract amateurs (in the literal sense of the word) from their studies.

Recently, Andis Kaulins proposed an archaeoastronomical interpretation of the megaliths in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, which is based in parts on my own map. In his preliminary mapping, Kaulins proposed a decipherment of the megaliths as a gigantic star map.
 


Literature

Bialas, Volker (1988) Astronomie und Glaubensvorstellungen in der Megalithkultur. Zur Kritik der Archäoastronomie. Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Klasse, Abhandlungen, Neue Folge, Heft 166. München: Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften.

Heggie, Douglas C. (1981) Megalithic Science. Ancient Mathematics and Astronomy in Northwest Europe. London: Thames and Hudson.

Heinrich, Rudolf (1988) Astroarchäologie: Wissenschaft oder Antikenrezeption? Hephaistos 9, 187-207.

Kehnscherper, Günther (1990) Hünengrab und Bannkreis: von der Eiszeit an—Spuren früher Besiedlung im Ostseegebiet. Second edition. Leipzig etc: Urania.

Kruse, Monika (1997) Auf der Suche nach der Megalithformel. Unknown Reality. Die Welt des Unerklärlichen 3 (Sonderausgabe).

Kruse, Monika (1999) Die Megalithformel® und ihre Erben. Kopp Dossier 2/99, 52-65.

Michell, John (1989) A Little History of Astro-Archaeology. Updated and enlarged edition. London: Thames and Hudson.

Müller, Rolf (1970) Der Himmel über dem Menschen der Steinzeit. Berlin etc.: Springer.

Seidenspinner, Wolfgang (1989) Germanische Sternwarten und prähistorische Astronauten. Von der wissenschaftlichen Spekulation zur Sage. Fabula 30 (1/2), 26-42.

Seidenspinner, Wolfgang (1993) Archäologie, Volksüberlieferung, Denkmalideologie. Anmerkungen zum Denkmalverständnis der Öffentlichkeit in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart. Fundberichte aus Baden-Württemberg 18, 1-15. Stuttgart: E.Schweizerbart.

© Cornelius Holtorf, last updated on 10 Juni 2005