Science Gazette

Stonehenge functioned as a solar calendar in antiquity

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Because of its alignment with the solstices, it was long assumed that the famed Stonehenge functioned as an ancient calendar. Now, researchers have discovered how it may have worked.

New discoveries regarding the history of the stone circle, as well as examination of other ancient calendar systems, motivated Professor Timothy Darvill to revisit Stonehenge. His research, which was published in the journal Antiquity, determined that the site was intended to be a solar calendar.

“Stonehenge’s clear solstitial alignment has prompted people to suggest that the site included some kind of calendar since antiquarian William Stukeley,” said Professor Darvill of Bournemouth University. “Now, discoveries have brought the issue into sharper focus and indicate the site was a calendar based on a tropical solar year of 365.25 days.”

Importantly, new research has shown that Stonehenge’s sarsens were added approximately 2500 BC during the same era of building. They were supplied from the same place and stayed in the same formation as a result. This suggests that they worked as a team.

As a result, Professor Darvill examined the stones’ numerology and compared them to other known calendars from this time period. He discovered a solar calendar in their design, implying that they acted as a physical representation of the year, assisting the ancient residents of Wiltshire in keeping track of the days, weeks, and months.

“The suggested calendar operates in a fairly simple manner. “Each of the 30 stones in the sarsen circle symbolizes a day inside a month, which is split into three weeks of ten days each,” Professor Darvill said, adding that separate stones in the circle signal the start of each week.

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To match the solar year, an intercalary month of five days and a leap day every four years were required. “The five Trilithons in the center of the site depict the intercalary month, possibly devoted to the deities of the site,” Professor Darvill said. “The four Station Stones outside the Sarsen Circle offer markers to notch-up to a leap day.”

As a result, the winter and summer solstices would always be framed by the same pair of stones. One of the trilithons also frames the winter solstice, implying that it was perhaps the new year. This solstitial alignment also aids in calendar calibration; any faults in calculating the days would be obvious since the sun would be in the incorrect location on the solstices.

Today, a calendar with ten-day weeks and additional months may seem strange. However, numerous nations established calendars like this throughout this time period.

“Such a solar calendar was devised in the eastern Mediterranean in the years around 3000 BC, was accepted as the Civil Calendar in Egypt about 2700, and was extensively utilized at the beginnings of the Old Kingdom around 2600 BC,” Professor Darvill said. This raises the likelihood that the Stonehenge calendar was influenced by one of these other societies. Adjacent discoveries hint to similar cultural ties: the nearby Amesbury archer, buried at the same time, was born in the Alps and came to Britain as a youngster.

Professor Darvill thinks that more study may shed light on these possibilities. Archaeological artifacts and ancient DNA might indicate links between these societies. Nonetheless, the discovery of a solar calendar at Stonehenge should alter our perception of it.

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“Finding a solar calendar portrayed in Stonehenge’s construction brings us a whole new way of interpreting the monument as a place for the living,” he said, “a place where the scheduling of rites and festivals was tied to the very fabric of the world and celestial motions in the skies.”

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