Here Comes the Sun

2013-02-02 08.31.58

The sun rises across the valley from Ballybane West on Feb 2nd, 2013

Joint Post by Finola and Robert

In Finola’s solstice post, she wrote that archaeologists are aware of the astronomical siting of some Irish megalithic sites, such as at Newgrange, and Loughcrew.

Michael Wilson and his Whole Horizon Analytical Technique (WHAT)

Michael Wilson carries out his Whole Horizon Analytical Technique (WHAT)

We have become intrigued by the work of Michael Wilson, a talented amateur astronomer who is singlehandedly documenting the astronomical siting of many monuments in this area. Recently he has turned his attention to rock art. His website contains an astonishing body of work, meticulously researched and rigorously recorded, along with explanatory notes. His thesis, in a nutshell, is that the builders and carvers of Neolithic and Bronze Age times were keen observers of the day and night skies and were intimately familiar with their surroundings. They situated their megaliths and rock art in places where the contours of the horizon allowed them to mark significant solar and lunar events, such as solstices, equinoxes, lunar settings and risings, and intermediate points. Thus, the sun at the winter solstice might rise at the highest point on a nearby mountain, or set in a deep notch in the hills at the spring equinox. The solar calendar has four quarter days (the solstices and the equinoxes), four cross-quarter days (the half way points between the solstices and the equinoxes) and a further finer division into points half-way between the quarters and cross-quarters: an ancient 16 month calendar.

A few days ago, Michael posted this:

Imbolc, the spring cross-quarter, is almost upon us. It will be on Feb 1st by the Gregorian calendar, where it is commonly known as St Bridget’s Day or Candlemas, but this is not the correct day. By day-count, the times to celebrate will be sunset on the 3rd and sunrise on the 4th. Astronomically, the sun will be exactly half-way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox at about 16:13 GMT on Feb 3rd, while Feb 2nd is the day to see the sun rise and set at the prehistoric positions for marking this festival.

We set out for our favourite rock art site, Ballybane West, before dawn on Feb 2nd, feeling incredibly lucky to have a clear sky. As the sky brightened, and the nearby hills started to receive the sun’s rays, the carvings on the rock surface became clearly visible. Then, the sun rose, exactly where Michael’s predictions said it would, at the highest point of a rounded hill on the horizon. As people had been doing 4000 years ago in this exact spot, we marked the cross-quarter day of Imbolc – a time when the land starts to warm up, the first spring flowers appear, and the ewes are visibly pregnant.

The carvings light up in the dawn rays

The Ballybane West carvings light up in the dawn rays

If Michael is correct, we have to think in a whole new way about the rock art. Although there have been indications before that the location of the carved rocks was of some significance (for example: there is often a view of water; some theorists have posited that they are ancient boundary markers), this way of looking at rock art elevates the actual siting of the rock as most important, and allows us to view the carvings themselves as a way to indicate the purpose of the site – a means to an end rather than an end in itself. The motifs, though, will probably remain as enigmatic as ever.

4 thoughts

  1. I’m currently immersed in a course on Bronze Age Mediterranean empires at the moment and enjoyed your joint post relating to this time so long ago in Ireland. (Liked your early morning adventure and photography too.)

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s