Wednesday, June 1, 2016

'Henges, Now and Then

Along with Memorial Day and the official beginning of Summer, we had a biannual celestial event in NYC aptly named "Manhattan-henge". Also named the Manhattan Solstice, it is an event during which the setting sun is perfectly aligned with the grid of numbered, east–west streets of Manhattan. (Note: Unfortunately, we had rain, so it was not seen this weekend in it's full glory)

Pretty cool, huh? Now, this isn't exactly like it's namesake "Stonehenge" on Salisbury Plain in the UK where the sun aligns exactly to come over the foot stone on the actually Summer Solstice. But it is the best we "moderns" could do.

Well, and Manhattan is situated about 29 degrees off true North/South and of course, was not designed as a...whatever Stonehenge is supposed to be. These ancient stonemasons had a lot of time on their hands to study the celestial bodies and a bunch of stones that they had dragged hundred of miles, and no city government to tell them where and how they could build their "henge" (if you know what I mean).

On my trip earlier this month, I went to another ancient place in Ireland called Newgrange. It is a mound outside of Dublin that when excavated in the 20th Century, it was discovered that the opening and the inner chamber of the mound were aligned perfectly with the sun to mark the Winter Solstice. It predates the Great Pyramids of Egypt by a thousand years, and is worth the trip to see.

Now to my point. There is this great wonder by all who visit as to how these ancient people could possibly have the skill to build these monuments to the sun with such precision that the sun would be exactly aligned at a specific day ever single year. I do not find this so extraordinary. They looked at the sky a lot. What else did they have to do at night or while tending to the flocks during they day? Of course, they would study the heavens, create stories about great Gods who inhabited the night skies and, at the most basic, it was their entertainment.

And as always, there are humans who went beyond mere entertainment, and observed their world in hopes to improve it. They started with what was available to them every day - the sky. And through that observation, they determined that the big, firey thing in the sky that comes over the horizon every day, rises at a certain point on the horizon and sets at another point on the horizon. And by putting markers down in a circle, they observed that the point moved. If you think about it, it was the earliest form of a computer and used to predict the trajectory of the Sun. If they had been stupid, humans would never have progressed to cell phones and reality shows...oh, wait.

By the way, there are hundreds of these mounds and "henges" throughout Ireland and the UK, many of which have yet to be excavated and studied. Who knows what other celestial events these other mounds were meant to mark.

Anyway, discuss.


Kit said...

Stonehenge! Where the demons dwell
Where the banshees live and they do live well
Stonehenge! Where a man's a man
And the children dance to the Pipes of Pan


Critch said...

Cool beans...

So down we lay again. "I wonder,
Will the world ever saner be,"
Said one, "than when He sent us under
In our indifferent century!"

And many a skeleton shook his head.
"Instead of preaching forty year,"
My neighbour Parson Thirdly said,
"I wish I had stuck to pipes and beer."

Again the guns disturbed the hour,
Roaring their readiness to avenge,
As far inland as Stourton Tower. 5
And Camelot, 6 and starlit Stonehenge.
--Thomas Hardy

I've considered building a "carhenge" here in the Missouri Delta with the 150 or so old cars I have in my junkyard

Koshcat said...

We are going to Ireland this summer and I am hoping to check out the Newgrange mound. I think what is difficult for people today to imagine is to be certain on the location they would have had to follow the patterns for years-even decades. People today can barely pay attention to and remember last night's ballgame.

It makes perfect sense that the ancients would put so much faith and energy into the sun. It is like a God. Always there watching; sometimes loving and giving and sometimes angry and harsh. I have even seen some connect Christianity as basically an offshoot of pagan sun worshiping (Son Worship; get it?).

BevfromNYC said...

Kit - Interestingly enough, Stonehenge seemed kinda' smaller than I imagined from photos. Not "This Is Spiinal Tap" small <8-D, was still very cool to walk amongst the stones.

BevfromNYC said...

I think a Missouri "Car-Henge" would be really cool! Thanks for the Hardy poetry...that's when writers/poets were...real writers and poets. Oh, you know what I mean.

BevfromNYC said...

Koshcat - I loved, loved, loved Ireland. I have never seen so many shades of green in my entire life. Dublin is a beautiful city and definitely do Newgrange if you go. We took this tour and it was excellent. It was conducted by Mary Gibbons, a field archeologist who studies the mounds - Newgrange Tours by Mary Gibbons. I have other tips and things to do if you are interested...

Critch said...

I was in an oral interpretation contest in college and I was very nervous. I introduced myself and said that my reading would be "Channel Firing" by Oliver Hardy....apparently everyone caught my mistake except the judges' panel...

Kit said...

I hope the argument that Christianity derived from pagan sun-worshiping relies on more than sun=son.

If it is, then I can guarantee you etymologists and philologists everywhere are crying.

For example:
Latin word for "son" is fillius and the Greek word is υἱύς.
Latin word for "sun" is sol, or, if they were being poetic, Apollo. The Greek word is ήλιος.

The Greek words are key because it was Greek-speaking Hellenized Jews who spread Christianity beyond Judaea.

The words "son" and "sun" derive, if my Google search is correct, from the Germanic languages.

So, again, I hope there is more to their argument than that.

Kit said...

Any spelling errors there I blame on my Macbook's automatic spell-correct.

Kit said...

Oh, Bev, have you read Bernard Cornwell's Stonehenge? It's not a great novel but it's a decent time-killer.

AndrewPrice said...

Howdy folks! Sorry I'm late. It's been a busy start to summer.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, That's sad that it seemed smaller. I always thought of it as quite large.

Spinal Tap small... LOL!

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, The first time I saw that connection was in the Star Trek episode "Bread and Circuses," but it sounds like something people would say.

I've seen a lot of people draw connections using coincidental sounds in English words as if that was what Jesus spoke. Not very bright.

BevfromNYC said...

KIt, it is very cleat that the spread of Christianity adapted holidays to fit the ancient Celtic beliefs. It happened throughout monotheism. Have you ever read James Michener's "The Source"? It was revelatory to me about the novelized history of monotheism. It is worth the read. He was/is a wonderful historical novelist with meticulous historical research. His other historical novels - Poland, Alaska, Carribean...all start from the beginning of time. Wonderfully dense historical novels.

BevfromNYC said...

Kit, I will definitely try Bernard Cornwell's Stonehenge. I love historical fiction...

BevfromNYC said...

Andrew - Yes, Stonehenge was just smaller than I expected. So was Buckingham Palace. Okay, the Palace (which I should rightfully occupy by birthright except for about 10 monarchical beheading/reformations in between) was only about a NYC block wide, was also 10 blocks long, however I expect more! ;-) And don't get me started about access to the "Crowned Jewels"!

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I've often found that monuments are much smaller than expected. I think it comes from seeing the huge size of our cities and our buildings -- everything is small by comparison -- and forgetting that the people who built these things were all 5 foot tall and used hand tools.

Versailles was tiny.

Neuschwanstein was great though in Germany. So was Himeji castle in Japan.

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