is Older than Stonehenge.
- I found a 5:6 ratio in arc distances
from Stonehenge to the Cursus termini, with 1:1.00004 accuracy.
Stonehenge is in the news again,
this time due to new dating of the "Cursus".
10 Jun 2008 - 'Cursus'
is older than Stonehenge The University of Manchester
... A team led by University of Manchester archaeologist
Professor Julian Thomas has dated the Greater Stonehenge Cursus
at about 3,500 years BC - 500 years older than the circle itself.
They were able to pinpoint its age after discovering
an antler pick used to dig the Cursus - the most significant
find since it was discovered in 1723 by antiquarian William Stukeley.
When the pick was carbon dated the results pointed
to an age which was much older than previously thought - between
3600 and 3300 BC - and has caused a sensation among archeologists
Interpretation, an often less-than-scientific
aspect of the science of archaeology, shifts like desert sand in
the winds of time. Sometimes the shifts are due to incontrovertable
evidence, sometimes due to fads like New Age "thinking." Often,
interpretation evidences more about the thinker and the times than
the past. Centuries ago, Stukeley first described the "cursus" as
a race-course for charioteers populated with innumerable multitudes
attending solemnities. His cursus interpretation (cursus, Latin,
race, race track, course) remains as an enrenched
misnomer in the archaeology lexicon.
British astronomer Sir J. Norman Lockyer,
founder of astro-physics and founder of the journal Nature,
published The Dawn of Astronomy in 1894. Lockyer, after noting
midsummer sunset axis at Karnak,
the date for Stonehenge based on midsummer's sunrise over
the Heel Stone.
Lockyer published Stonehenge and Other British Monuments Astronomically Considered in
1906. He pioneered the concept of monument orientation towards
the sun, moon, or stars on the horizon on a particular day, earning him a rank
as a founder of archaeoastronomy. I noticed the Heel
Stone azimuth is precisely 1/7th of circumference east of north, an empirical
fact open to interpretation. I addressed this in Temporal
Lockyer also incorrectly dated the
cursus based on the Pleiades alignment around 2000 BC. His example
continues to be followed, even by serious scientists, and often with
no evidence beyond the simple coincidence of whatever an alignment
roughly points to as the basis for date-reaching and an interpretation.
Several later authors pointed out the Cursus aligns with Woodhenge,
even though that aligment is off by degrees. With alignment interpretations,
one not infrequent and rarely challenged problem is the "horseshoes
and atomic bombs" imbroglio—in
other words, when is close close
enough. When hypothesizing science, close is NOT good enough!
| From: Stonehenge and Other British
Stone Monuments Astronomically Considered |
Lockyer - CHAPTER XXX - THE LIFE OF THE ASTRONOMER-PRIESTS,
"The cursus at
Stonehenge and the avenues on Dartmoor may be regarded as
evidences that sacred processions formed part of the ceremonial
on the holy days, but sacrifices and sacred ceremonials were
not alone in question many authors have told us that feasts,
games and races were not forgotten. This, so far as racing
is concerned, is proved, I think, by the facts that the cursus
at Stonehenge is 10,000 feet long and 350 feet broad, that
it occupies a valley between two hills, thus permitting of
the presence of thousands of spectators, and that our horses
are still decked in gaudy trappings on May Day.
"Nor is this all. It is hard to understand
some of the folklore and tradition unless we recognise that
at a time before marriage was instituted, at some of the
sacred festivals the intercourse of the sexes was permitted
if not encouraged. .... "
After reading the news report, I examined the
Stonehenge and Cursus archaeogeodesy, using National Monument Report
(NMR) coordinate data (in the table below). The results proved
interesting. I found a 5:6 ratio in arc distances from Stonehenge
to the Cursus termini, with 1:1.00004 accuracy. From Stonehenge
to the west terminus is 0.01338 degrees, to the east terminus is
0.016056 degrees. The arc distance between
the cursus' termini is 0.02513 degrees, about 2.8 km. The arc distance
from Stonehenge to the Cursus W terminus (0.01338° =
0.00050 S22) matches the Thornborough spacing
(+/- 10 m, accuracy 1:1.0067). Close enough?
Not really. What are the methods employed?
What do the coordinates really represent? The Stonehenge NMR coordinate
(coded stonh) is likely a benchmark for archeological surveys.
It is visibly not the center of the monument. Likewise for the
cursus termini, where no actual cursus monuments are readily visible
(barrows are). Also, the termini
were rebuilt several times. The results
"close enough" to warrant taking a more refined approach,
to employ methods suitable to the questions posed and the hypothesis
considered. If the hypothesis is "the Stonehenge landscape
evidences planned geometric construction" then accuracy should
be to the level humans are capable of surveying and measuring.
NMR SU 1224 4218
Cursus W Terminus
NMR SU 1232 4305
Cursus E Terminus
NMR SU 1095 4290
Lessor Cursus SW
NMR SU 1035 4343
Lessor Cursus NE
NMR SU 1072 4353
Google Earth (GE), a free
download, is relatively
accurate in Britain, as are topographic surveys of the region.
Using the online topographic service at magic.gov.uk and
the nearby.org.uk online
converter to produce WGS84 reference system cordinates, the Stonehenge
centerpoint results (51.17885, -1.82621) confirm the coordinates
I determined with GE (stone 51.178856, -1.826172). Numerous other
monument coordinates have demonstated that GE is accurate in this
region. Nonetheless, accurate GPS is certainly the preferred method
of determining monument coordinates. As is often the case in archaeology,
digging deeper is required, including into survey and excavation
reports and previous publications, and, to utilize
better methods, into deeper pockets.
English Heritage is
reassessing the over
150 known cursuses and bank barrows in England, most
now only cropmarks, with a few surviving as earthworks. Some
are very long, or less than 250 m long; some survived
at least 1,000 years, others apparently were not maintained; some
lines are straight, others are irregular.
|David McOmish reports, "So far
we have looked at 50, and it has already become clear that
some of our cherished views need to be rethought. .... It
has been suggested that many cursus enclosures represent
the formalisation of sections of long-established paths or
routes. If so, the episodic construction, irregularities
in alignment and disparities between the two sides may reflect
compromises between an ancient pathway and the demands of
Cursuses are among the oldest landmarks and the
most substantial prehistoric constructions in
Britain. The Dorset Cursus traverses almost 10 km, and is over 100
m wide. These very long rectangular enclosures have near continuous
boundaries of earthen banks and an exterior ditch. Cursuses are
also some of the oldest monumental constructs in the world. They
remain enigmatic even though much speculative interpretation has
|Kenneth Brophy writes, "Across
Britain, there seems to be a close connection between cursus
monuments and streams and rivers. The majority lie on flood-plains
or river-terraces, close to the river. ... Worries about
fertility, about life and death, about the continuation of
their society, could have been concentrated in these special
enclosures which, in some regards, so mirror rivers. Maybe
Neolithic people saw the cursus as a type of river under
their control, not under nature's; as a place in which they
could cleanse themselves of their existential worries through
rituals, and allow themselves to return to their everyday
lives with more confidence in the future. "
I am, of course, naturally skeptical of any interpretation
that purports the thinking of cultures long past. The thinking
of people right next to me, in one of my own cultures, is often
too much of a mystery. Archaeology epitomizes the concept of
sampling. All we ever have is a fragment of the past, and the smallest
of samples is typically the case. While McOmish does wander about
the interpretation landscape, I think some of his ideas appeal
David McOmish interprets,
the varied settings and alignments of cursuses - linked to
rivers, ridges, astronomical features, and the rest - seem
to suggest a desire among Neolithic people to enmesh these
monuments and the events taking place within them with prominent
features of the natural world. Similar links are found in
the settings of some long barrows and panels of rock art.
"It may be that social groups or individuals used these
monuments to make statements about land use or tenure - and
that they intended their claims to seem indisputable because
they were part of the natural order.
Some cursus sites, particularly those forming part of a complex of monuments such
as at Dorchester-on-Thames, may have been places where large groups of people congregated
In many respects, cursuses and bank barrows seem more representative of communal
cooperation than of exclusion..."
Perhaps demarcation of communal space and community
claims to place can explain a lot about monuments. Mystery arises
in a vacuum, has life amidst ignorance, and seems to thrive on
antiquity. Without knowledge of a culture's land ownership patterns,
private and communal property ideation, land use decision processes,
property and boundary demarcation methods, inheritance, and related
concepts, we are left with mystery, at best. And so,
we search for patterns with the hope of finding clues in this void
of knowledge. In the context of the tiny slice
of the past we are left with, our own culture and time seem to
have more of a determinative outcome on our interpretation of the
patterns we detect than actual evidence does.
The Cursus -
(from NMR Monument Report) is a Neolithic monument comprising a
long, narrow earthwork enclosure about 2.7 km long, varying
in width from 100m to 150m, orientated roughly east-west,
and passing within circa 700m of Stonehenge.
The ends of The Cursus are squared with rounded corners.
barrows lie within the cursus at the western end. Much
of the cursus bank and ditch survives as earthworks, the
bank to a maximum height of 0.4 metres, and 6.5 metres width. Excavations
occurred in 1947, 1959, and 1983, but dating evidence was limited.
The 1947 excavations, located on the south
side, revealed the ditch was flat-bottomed with steep-sides, 1.8m
wide and up to 0.75m deep. A berm 4.6m wide and 0.4m high separated
the bank and ditch. The ditch at the western end was larger, up
to 2.75m wide and 2m deep with a wider berm, in addition to an
external bank. The Cursus remains visible as a slight earthwork
and a cropmark on aerial photographs, and has been mapped by both
RCHME's Salisbury Plain Training Area NMP and EH's Stonehenge WHS
The Lessor Cursus -
(from NMR Monument Report) is a Neolithic cursus comprising a rectangular
enclosure, orientated west-south-west to east-north east, and 400
m long by 60 m wide situated along the summit of a flat-topped
ridge. The eastern end is open. Aerial photography
shows the visible earthwork defined
by a ditch with internal bank in 1934
was levelled by 1954. A bank and ditch crossed
the cursus circa 200 m from the western end. Excavations in
1983 suggest two phases of construction, the first phase its
eastern end defined by the cross ditch and bank, circa 200 m
60 m. The second phase sees the extension eastwards, with
enlargement of ditches and banks. The few artefacts include a formal
deposit of antlers, including picks in the phase 2 southern
ditch, radiocarbon dated to 3640-3040 BC. The Lesser Cursus was mapped
by both RCHME's Salisbury Plain Training Area NMP and EH's Stonehenge
WHS Mapping Project.
- Again, Stonehenge is in the news, along with the Cursus. With ground-penetrating radar and geophysical imaging, two large pits were noted below the surface. Archaeologist Vince Gaffney reports from the Heel Stone the pits align with the summer solstice rising and setting. Also, the midpoint between the pits is north of Stonehenge, albeit precision is apparently not yet specified.
With myrriad headlines created for a news story, the line between fact and interpretation is blurred. A one sentence speculation about possible "processions within the Cursus" is now fully populated with actors and their beliefs. My online search produced interpretive terms such as sun worship, an ancient midsummer ceremony, Stonehenge mystery, Site Was Sacred For Sun Worship, a celestial procession at Stonehenge, Sun Celebrations at Stonehenge, a Sun-worship site, Stone worshipping, magical ancient Britain, ancient centre of ritual, and more.
The Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project: Virtual Excavation & Digital Recreation
Enclosures English Heritage
- Brophy, Kenneth 1999. Seeing the cursus as a symbolic river British
Archaeology Issue 44, May 1999
- English Heritage NMR, Long
- English Heritage NMR, Long
Report: Stone Circles, March 9 2006.
- Jacobs, James Q. 2000. The Possible
Geodetic Properties and Relationships of Neolithic Monuments
of the British Isles, Preliminary Results. Unpublished
- Lockyer, Norman 1909. Stonehenge
and Other British Stone Monuments Astronomically Considered.
- Lockyer, J. N. & F. C. Penrose
1901 An attempt to ascertain the date of the original construction
of Stonehenge, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London,
- McOmish, David 2003. Cursus:
solving a 6,000-year-old puzzle British Archaeology Issue
69 March 2003.