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Today we highlight a couple of sites in the British Isles which appear to be connected to the stars of Orion’s Belt.

Thornborough Henges

The Thornborough Henges complex in North Yorkshire comprises three henges almost identical in size and composition, each having a diameter of approximately 240 meters with an earth ring 3 meters high. A 12 meter berm separates the banks from the internal ditches which were originally each about 20 meters wide and 3 meters deep while all three henges have twin entrances to the northwest and the southeast. The henges are located around 550m apart on an approximate northwest-southeast alignment, though like Orion’s Belt, not exactly in a straight line.

Altogether, the monument extends NW-SE on a heading of 144 degrees for about a mile. There is a left-hand kink of approximately 7 degrees.

Orkney Henges

Three stone circles form the axis mundi of Neolithic Orkney. The first, Stenness, is perhaps the most impressive despite only three-and-a-half of its eleven original monoliths remaining.

Along the narrow isthmus to the northwest of Stenness stands the more intact Ring of Brodgar, twenty-seven of its original fifty-six sandstones are still upright.

Further along the ridge, there’s a third circle, the Ring of Bookan, occupying the high ground from where it is possible to see the other two sites. All that remains of Bookan is a central mound with a collapsed chamber and a circular ditch filled with soil.

The axis of Bookan, Brodgar and Stenness follows a general NW-SE trajectory of 129 degrees, for just under two miles. But the three sites are not in perfect alignment. From Bookan, the line kinks roughly 9 degrees left at Brodgar to meet the Stenness circle.

Next, we’ll look at some other possible alignment sites in different locations around the world.

We begin our brief look at Orion-related sites with three sites in different parts of the globe, each separated by at least 1200 miles, if not more. This shows the spread of the ‘phenomenon’, known as the ‘Orion Correlation Theory‘.

Giza, Egypt

The three great pyramids on the Giza Plateau bear a close similarity to the alignment of the three belt stars, and an air shaft inside the Great Pyramid is said to point directly toward Alnitak at the time of the pyramid’s construction. The shafts are believed to be there to project the dead Pharaoh’s soul toward notable stars.

While this theory remains just a theory, the correspondence between the stars and the pyramids is quite remarkable.

The pyramidal alignment at Giza is oriented NE-SW at approximately 216 degrees for just over half a mile, with a roughly 14 degree ‘kink’ to the left.

Teotihuacán, Mexico

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, a similar correspondence has been identified in the ruins of the ancient city of Teotihuacán, some 35 miles NE of Mexico City. Two large pyramids and a temple, believed to have been built in the 2nd century, mimic the three stars of Orion’s Belt. The construction of the ancient city has been attributed to a race of giants, the Quinametzin Giants, who were believed to have populated the world in an earlier era. The Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacán is exactly half as tall as the Great Pyramid at Giza.

There is also a link to the Maya culture and calendar at Teotihuacán, which is perceived to be the place where a god placed the three stones of creation and that the three pyramids are symbolic of these three stones. The Pyramid of the Sun faces the sunset on an auspicious date in the Mayan calendar. Many other such connections can be made at Teotihuacán, and a Google search will reveal many of the New Age sites that detail these connections, such as those proposed by authors such as Graham Hancock.

Oriented NE-SW at 186 degrees for around 1.25 miles, at this site, the ‘kink’ is to the right, at approximately 15 degrees.

Xi’an, China

A large complex of some 16 pyramids outside the city of Xi’an, famed for the ‘Terracotta Warrior’ tomb, includes 3 pyramids (or trapezoidal burial mounds) which are placed in a line similar to that of Orion’s Belt, and some researchers have equated this site to be another displaying the Orion Correlation.

A good account of these Chinese pyramids can be read here.

Tomorrow, we’ll list some of the sites a bit closer to home…

All this week, we’ll be looking at something a little different for the Heritage Journal as we dabble into the worlds of archaeo-astronomy, what some would call ‘bad (or false) archaeology’, and some downright odd alien conspiracy theories! Please bear with us…

The constellation of Orion is one of the most prominent and recognisable constellations in the night sky. Its location on the celestial equator allows it to be seen all over the planet.

As such, it may well have been of importance to many ancient cultures as alignment with the position of the stars is said to be marked/mirrored by many ancient monuments.

The most outstanding feature of the constellation is the three stars of “Orion’s Belt”. From left to right these are:

Alnitak
a triple star system that is situated in the eastern end of Orion’s belt. The star is 1.260 light-years away from Earth.
Alnilam
a supergiant at around 2.000 light-years away from Earth, located in the middle of the belt.
Mintaka
a multiple star system at around 1.200 light-years away from Earth. It is 190.000 times more luminous than the Sun. It is located at the western end of Orion’s belt.

Throughout this week we’ll be taking a brief look at some of the ancient sites with connections to Orion to see if there is any ‘ground truth’ in the stories. Stay tuned…

In our recent article on Castlerigg, we quoted one of our founder members’ thoughts on the site:

The inclusion of this quote got us to thinking why do we visit the sites that we love? What is it that makes us want to seek out these ancient places? Exactly why have we persisted with this web site for so many years now?

Of course, everyone will have their own reasons, and experiences to recount, so we thought we’d delve around our favourite website for some examples and came up with the following, just a small sample of many others of similar ilk:

Its such an awe-inspiring and majestic relic, so open to the natural elements yet isolated and removed from civilisation. It provokes, in me at least, such a sense of time, of change and of loss, while forever maintaining a constant and passivity that’s utterly mysterious and foreboding. A monument once so significant to a people long since departed still holds within its dark stony aura the capacity to bestow such thoughts of wonder and intrigue upon those that now walk within its sacred shadow.

Delazinsky on Avebury – The Modern Antiquarian

It was thrilling to touch the stones again after so long, wonderful to stand in the small forecourt before walking once more into the dark, imposing chambers. Again, the structure of the place struck me through new eyes; the size of the rocks, the creation of this space, the awesome nature of the whole. It occurred to me that the stones appeared very much like the bones of the earth.

Treaclechops on West Kennet – The Modern Antiquarian

Large enough to be awe inspiring, small enough to still feel intimate, remote enough to feel like you stand amidst the cyclopean remains of an ancient civilisation in the furthest flung corner of these islands, …Brodgar is one of the most photogenic of ancient sites, and tonight, a clear Samhain evening we’ve come up to the circle to try some long exposure shots.

It’s cold, and a low mist clings to the henge ditch around the stones, amplifying the already otherworldly atmosphere. There is no sign of anyone else around.

Ravenfeather on the Ring of Brodgar- The Modern Antiquaran

I will never forget my experience at Callanish. It has had a permanent effect on me and whilst I was watching the sun come up I felt a sort of ‘connection’ with those that had come before me.

CARL on Callanish – The Modern Antiquarian

Wow! What an amazing, atmospheric place to be! … I felt so much energy emanating from the circle and walked slowly up the path taking in every sensation as I trod. The air was clean and crisp and the sun was shining. I could feel the build up of energy as I walked closer and the hairs on my body stood on end! …if you want to make the long trek to the stones I would highly recommend it! … For a small circle, the energy there is intense and will blow your socks off!!! 

Astrophel on the Rollright Stones – The Modern Antiquarian

Have you had similar experiences at an ancient site? Leave a comments and let us know about your reactions upon seeing a site for the first time.

Also known as the Carles, and suggested by Burl (1995) to be one of the oldest stone circles in Europe, Castlerigg is considered by many to be the ancient site to visit in the Lake District, set as it is amongst the fells. Thirty-eight stones remain in the circle, of a possible forty-two originally. 

There is a definite entranceway to the north, and a strange rectangle of stones within the east of the circle, known as the ‘Sanctuary’, whilst the faint outline of a possible barrow remains in the north-east quadrant. Three cairns were reported within the circle in 1856, but nothing now remains of these. The only finds reported within the circle were three stone axes uncovered in the late 1800s. An excavation of the Sanctuary in 1882 discovered a 1m deep pit filled with earth, stones and  pieces of charcoal. 

The northern entrance stones
The Sanctuary

Thom (1967) has identified Castlerigg as one of the most important sites for archaeoastronomers, having conducted extensive research here. 

To the west of the field is an outlier stone, thought to have been previously buried as there is significant plough damage visible. The stone was placed in its present position in 1913.

Surprisingly for such an ancient site, neither Grinsell (1976) nor Rowling (1976) attach any specific folk-lore to the stones here.

The site is extremely popular with tourists, situated as it is just a short distance from the town of Keswick. A major attraction of the site is the extensive views of the surrounding fells. Many people have mentioned the coincidence of the shapes of the stones when compared to the hills on the horizon, many seeming to mirror the distant peaks:

“I’ll never get over the setting here. The circle itself is too spectacular and wonderful for words but is still completely overwhelmed by the natural beauty of the surrounding hills.”

Moth Clark on the Modern Antiquarian
Reflecting the horizon

I recently watched a shockingly atrocious, but never-the-less entertaining, American pseudo-archaeology program called What On Earth. The description for the latest series reads as follows:

“Thousands of advanced satellites and drones orbit Earth, invisible to us yet scanning every inch of our planet. They capture our world in unprecedented detail, revealing areas that until now have remained a mystery. In an all new season of WHAT ON EARTH, experts look to this state-of-the-art imaging technology to discover bizarre phenomena and strange mysteries including an inaccessible cave of bones on an island off the coast of Africa, a bizarre concrete structure sitting off the coast of the Baltic sea, and a crater in Mexico with extra-terrestrial connections.”

One of the subjects of this particular episode (S09E01) was the – strangely never named in the program – Chun Castle, an Iron Age hill fort in Penwith, Cornwall. 

Built during the Iron Age, in the third century BC, it is over 2000 years later than the nearby neolithic quoit. Although it is in a ruined state, its size is still impressive.  The fort is 85m in diameter, and consists of a central area, surrounded by two concentric granite walls with external ditches. The outer ditch was 6.1m wide, and the outer wall is now 2.1m high, but may originally have been 3.0m high. The inner wall (now mostly destroyed) was some 4.6m to 6.7m thick, and could originally have been some 6.1m high. There were originally some Iron Age huts in the inner area, though no trace of these now remain. 

Possible reconstruction of Chun Castle by Craig Weatherhill

Claims made in the program included the fact that it was built in ancient times to protect the cliff-top tin mines and engine houses (built in the 18th century!) nearby, on behalf of, yes, you guessed it – King Arthur!! An American archaeologist ‘investigated’ the site, and stumbled across what “the Germans (what do they have to do with Cornwall?) call a Hunebed – a burial tomb”. Why not call it a quoit, the local name for such dolmens? More nonsense was spouted about pagan ceremonies for the dead taking part at the quoit, with ceremonies for the living possibly being held in the nearby henge (the castle site). The late local historian Craig Weatherhill who dearly loved this site must be spinning in his grave at this piffle!

Whilst this is all patently nonsense, and Professor Mark Horton should be ashamed of being associated with the program, I must admit to wondering if there could indeed be any credence in the idea of Chun Castle being built on an earlier henge site. I know that a few years ago Sir Barry Cunliffe was involved in negotiations to investigate the monument with an archaeological excavation. Sadly, funding could not be obtained for the dig at that time and so we must wait until a future time for such questions to be definitively answered.

In our previous article on Ancient Sites Depicted on Stamps, we asked if anyone knew of any British sites depicted on stamps from elsewhere around the world. Further research on this topic has exposed an entire genre of postage stamps around the world depicting ancient sites, from Britain and elsewhere. 

Firstly, let’s look at Stonehenge, the ‘iconic British monument’. The stamp released in Great Britain in 2005, as part of the World Heritage issue was also released in other countries at the same time, specifically Australia.

Much earlier, in 1991, Bhutan issued its own Stonehenge stamp for collectors, this time hedging their bets for international sales by also including some Disney characters!

A search on the Colnet philatelic collector’s database for ‘Stonehenge’ displays a number of stamps from around the world showing the monument, from many African nations, and even as far away as Japan in 2015.

Similar searches on the same database for terms such as ‘megalith’, ‘dolmen’  or ‘neolithic’ can bring up some surprises. As you would expect, Malta has issued many stamps with neolithic sites featured on them.

Why not try your own search terms, and let us know what you can find?

On the 14th March 2016 a new web resource was publicly announced on these pages, the Stone Rows of Great Britain website. 

The idea for the new site came after a series of articles by Dr Sandy Gerrard here on the Journal, and we feel fully justified in congratulating him on the occasion of the site’s 5th birthday, on a job very well done!

The StoneRows site was created following a series of articles concerning the Bancbryn row in Wales, which was partially destroyed to make way for a wind farm, the authorities at that time refusing to recognise the row’s potential Neolithic origins. It became obvious to Dr Gerrard that very little work had been done to definitively identify such sites, and he set out to rectify this.

Bancbryn: One of the more obvious shifts in orientation

In the five years since the site’s birth, Dr Gerrard has personally visited and surveyed almost all of the known rows in the UK. As a result of this ‘boots on the ground’ research the website has expanded significantly and now not only provides a gazetteer with details of every recorded row in the UK, but also contains a number of statistical analyses and research articles on typology, topography and other aspects of the known rows, whether extant or destroyed/lost.

Such is the status of the site, it is now used as a primary reference point in some area’s Heritage Environment Records (HER), and will be referenced in on-site signage. The site continues to be updated to include the latest available information and research results.

Happy Birthday StoneRows!!

Two and  half kilometres south of the village of Shap, emerging from a railway embankment lie the six remaining stones of Kemp Howe circle. Described in 1769 as a ‘large circle’, the monument was cut through in 1844 by the building of the railway. 

Kemp Howe circle, courtesy of Bing Maps

One really does have to wonder at the mindset of the engineers at that time! There has been a suggestion that some original stones may still lie under the embankment, but I feel this is unlikely as the granite blocks could well have been used for building rather than just being buried. But then why leave the others out in the open? A mystery to be solved in the distant future, courtesy of a 21st century Dr Beeching perhaps?

The stones are composed of a lovely pink granite, local to the area, but none of the stones are what could be called ‘upright’. There are many smaller boulders around the large stones, whether these are packing stones or detritus from the building of the railway is not clear. The stones form an arc some 25m width, giving an idea of the original size of the circle.

Angie Lake on the Megalithic Portal identified one of the remaining stones as mimicking a distant peak to the NW, which may or may not be a significant alignment from the circle.

Kemp Howe circle denotes the southern limit of the Shap Avenue – an alignment of stones, many of which have been removed or destroyed over the years,  covering a distance of nearly 3km which includes the impressive Goggleby Stone and the Thunderstone.

A view from the Kemp Howe circle looking north was sketched in 1775 by Lady Lowther, wife of the Earl of Lonsdale. There is a good description of the circle and avenue in the Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society (PDF) which suggests there was an even larger circle a short distance to the north – of which nothing now remains.

Next time, we’ll visit one of the ‘Hollywood’ sites of the region (of which there are many, it has to be said!)

Prior to Queen Elizabeth II ascending the throne in 1953, commemorative issue stamps were few and far between. Until then, such issues were limited to major events such as royal or postal anniversaries. This was to remain the case until the early 1960s, when the scope for commemoratives was widened somewhat to include other anniversaries, art festivals and major international business conferences or trade treaties. The first ‘non-event’ commemorative stamps were issued in 1966, with artistic views of British Landscapes, including views of Hassocks in Sussex, Antrim NI, Harlech Castle in Wales and the Caingorm mountains in Scotland. 

On the 29th April 1968, a set of four stamps was released, depicting British Bridges, including the first ancient site to appear on a British stamp, Tarr Steps in Exmoor.

Although the frequency of commemorative sets increased, it was to be 22 years before another ancient site appeared. Strangely placed in a set released on 16th October 1990 celebrating Astronomy, Stonehenge made its first appearance.

The following year sets of definitive stamps were issued in a set of four archaeology-themed booklets, depicting Sir Arthur Evans at Knossos, Howard Carter at Tutankhamen’s Tomb,  Sir Austen Layard in Assyria and Flinders Petrie at Giza.

June 1993 saw the first Roman-themed stamps issued, with portraits depicting Claudius, Hadrian, the Goddess Roma and a mosaic of Christ.

Ten years later, for the 250th anniversary of the British Museum in 2003, another set of portraits were issued which included the Sutton Hoo helmet.

April 2005 saw the release of the World Heritage set of stamps, which included three ancient British sites; Hadrian’s Wall, Stonehenge and neolithic Orkney.

In 2011 and 2012, two sets were issued featuring a UK A-Z which included Glastonbury Tor and Roman Bath.

Tarr Steps made a re-appearance in the March 2015 Bridges set.

The Ancient Britain set released in January 2017 included not only objects such as the Starr Carr antlers and the Battersea Shield, but also sites including Skara Brae, Maiden Castle and Avebury.

In June of last year, another set depicting Roman Britain was issued, the most recent release within our sphere of interest. This time the sites of Dover Lighthouse, Caerleon amphitheatre and Hadrian’s Wall (again) were included.

So over the years, it can be seen that Ancient Britain has been well represented on the stamps of Great Britain, with Tarr Steps, Hadrian’s Wall and Stonehenge all appearing more than once. Sadly, there are no stamps within our interest scheduled for this year, although folklorists have an Arthurian-themed set to look forward to.

Who, or what would you like to see on a British Archaeology set of stamps, if one were to be produced in future? Have you seen any examples of British sites on stamps from elsewhere in the world? Please leave a comment and let us know!

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