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Moon may have influenced Stonehenge construction

A study by a team of archaeoastronomers are investigating the possible connection of the moon in influencing the Stonehenge builders.

According to a press statement by the Royal Astronomical Society, academics from Oxford, Leicester and Bournemouth universities, suggest that a major lunar standstill, a rare astronomical phenomenon, may have influenced the monument’s alignment.

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A lunar standstill, also known as a lunistice, is when the Moon reaches its furthest north or furthest south point during the course of a month. A major lunar standstill is when the declination at lunar standstill varies in a cycle 18.6 years long between 18.134° (north or south) and 28.725° (north or south), due to lunar precession.

Professor Clive Ruggles, emeritus professor of archaeoastronomy at Leicester University, said: “Stonehenge’s architectural connection to the Sun is well known, but its link with the Moon is less well understood.

“The four Station Stones align with the Moon’s extreme positions, and researchers have debated for years whether this was deliberate, and – if so – how this was achieved and what might have been its purpose,” added Professor Ruggles.

The researchers plan to document Moonrises and sets at key moments in the year when the moon will be in alignment with the Station Stones. In addition, they plan to document the event and show the visual effect on the stones though light patterns and shadows.

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It is believed that at least one major lunar standstill was marked during the early phases of construction at Stonehenge. This is evidenced in the cremated remains in the ditch and bank that now surrounds the stone circle, and in the Aubrey Holes – 56 pits. Many of the cremations are located in the south-eartern part in the direction of the most southerly rising position of the moon.

English Heritage, said: “The Station Stones may have been employed to help measure out the sarsen circle around 500 years after the site was first used for cremations, when the large sarsen circle was being built, suggesting a compelling and enduring connection between the lunar cycles and the architecture of Stonehenge.”

Header Image Credit : iStock

Sources : Royal Astronomical Society

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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.
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