An ancient stone monolith in England’s Peak District may well have been an astronomical marker, according to new archaeological evidence. The 4,000-year-old stone which is located at Gardom’s Edge is triangular in shape and angles up toward geographic south.
Gardom’s Edge Monolith
Its orientation and slant angle are aligned with the altitude of the sun at midsummer. Its direction is unlikely to be coincidental as new evidence shows that there are packing stones around the base of the 7foot tall (2.2-meter) Neolithic monolith, indicating that it was placed carefully in its location and position.
Obviously, with such an ancient site scientists can’t go rooting around disturbing the monument but a survey has shown a higher density of packing stones on one side which seems to suggest the stone’s orientation was carefully planned. Astronomer Daniel Brown of Nottingham Trent University in England said…
“Some religious buildings are aligned in a specific direction for symbolic reasons.”
Gardom’s Edge in the Peak District National Park near Manchester, an area that shows evidence of human occupation extending far back though its history and Bronze Age roundhouses and a late Neolithic enclosure have been found nearby.
This leaves the question of why someone would take such trouble to place the stone in its position. Mr Brown commented that…
“The stone would have been an ideal marker for a social arena for seasonal gatherings…It’s not a sundial in the sense that people would have used it to determine an exact time. We think that it was set in position to give a symbolic meaning to its location, a bit like the way that some religious buildings are aligned in a specific direction for symbolic reasons.”
Due to the fact the tilt of the Earth’s axis has changed from when the monolith was first placed to the present day researchers needed to use a 3D computer model to analyse how the ancient stone would have been illuminated throughout the different seasons four millennia ago. The model showed that the slanted side of the stone would have remained in permanent shadow during the winter, while it would have been illuminated only in the morning and afternoon during most of the summer. Yet, remarkably at midsummer, the sun would have lit the stone brightly all day (well, assuming there was any sun, after all, as we know, an English summer’s day can be a bit cloudy sometimes).
The way this stone reacts with sunlight is important and has excited scientists and archaeologist.
“The use of shadow casting in monuments of this period is quite rare in the British Isles,” Mr Brown said. “But there are some examples including New Grange, Ireland,and some Clava cairns in the north-east of Scotland that have been proposed to include the intentional use of shadows. Both are associated to burial sites using the symbolism of a cyclic light and shadow display to represent eternity. Given the proximity of the Neolithic enclosure and possible ritual importance of this site, the Gardom’s Edge monolith could be another such example.”
Wow! Powerful stuff, and another reminder the scientific community, not to underestimate the intelligence of past civilisations, or their awareness to what was going on in the sky.