The Mystery of Stonehenge

By Coastline17 | Academia | 10 Feb 2020

The Mystery of Stonehenge

            The 1965 documentary The Mystery of Stonehenge based on the book Stonehenge Decoded by Dr. Gerald Hawkins is an exploratory film on the megalithic structure from the reasons why it was built to the people that built it. Dr. Gerald Hawkins, a British astronomer, believes that Stonehenge was built with the explicit purpose of measuring the cyclic rotations of the moon and the sun over a 56-year period. He further theorizes that the builders of Stonehenge used it as a predictor of eclipses citing Stonehenge as a primitive observatory/computer. Dr.Hawkins proves this through the use of a computer comparing various plot points on Stonehenge to astronomic movements during the time it was built. He arrived at the conclusion that lunar eclipses cycled in a 19-year, 19-year, and 18-year rotation adding to a 56-year arc. To support his claims of the 56-year eclipse over the full moon, historians up until that point in time were unable to explain the significance of the 56 chalk stone filled holes, “Aubrey holes”, surrounding Stonehenge. When specific markers were placed on each Aubrey hole and shifted one marker every year, when a specific stone arrived at a marker, it would be an indication of an eclipse to occur that year.

            Contrasting Dr. Hawkins is Professor Richard Atkinson, professor of psychology and cognitive sciences, suggests that although the Aubrey holes could be used for the purposes of a being a predictive computer, however the course of history as well as what we know about man at the time would provide that the people during this period of time lacked the cognitive capabilities to execute such a scientific and technological endeavor. If they did possess the intelligence to build Stonehenge, then Professor Atkinson asks why they did?

            Juxtaposing the opinion of Professor Atkinson is that of Dr. Glyn Daniels, professor of Prehistory at Cambridge University, who dispels the misconception that the builders were “barbaric” and lacked the cognitive capacity to build Stonehenge. He equates the technological advancements people made at the time such as floating transportation being made to travel across the Mediterranean as well as the navigational skills required to do so at the time being an indication of the heightened level of intelligence people possessed.

            Alexander Kendrick, a broadcast journalist for CBS during the time, inquires as to the reasoning for the people of the time in building Stonehenge in the first place. Dr. Hawkins responds with the approximation that the people of the time saw astrological objects as gods or other objects of importance and that the builders were creating a device with which they could use to follow (track) the position of their gods (planets). Reinforcing the opinion of Professor Atkinson, Kendrick sought Dr. Hawkins opinion on whether the builders were too barbaric to conceive something as intricate as Stonehenge? Dr. Watkins synonymizes the comparison of modern day man being excavated in a couple thousand years to which artifacts may include bits and pieces of table-wear and other items that could be perceived by future generations as indicators of our “barbaric(ness)”. Further reaffirmation as to the cognitive capacities of the builders include the builders is cited by Dr. Hawkins claiming that their lack of literacy shouldn’t constitute ignorance as they were very intelligent in building such a complex structure that serves as a form of “written account”.

            Professor Atkinson sheds light on the technological skills of the builders at the time by reaffirming that it is highly likely that there was an architect involved in building Stonehenge and that it was not just the amalgamation of stones by random builders. It is far more probably that this architect originated from the Mediterranean or a surrounding area during that time as those civilizations were more advanced in comparison to the builder/farmers local to Stonehenge. The representation of a Mycenean era dagger carved into one of the stones further support Professor Atkinson claims of Mediterranean influence in the construction of Stonehenge.

            Further supporting the notion of intelligence-led architecture, Professor Atkinson illustrates with miniature models the process in which the main monoliths and smaller cap pieces were raised via a system of levers and pulleys over a long period of time. Although this indicates that the builders possessed the technology and intelligence to build the monument, Professor Atkinson still holds firm as to the lack of a based answer in the scientific community on the reason of building Stonehenge. He claims that it is possible to interpret the technological advances of a culture, yet the mind, what they were thinking at the time, is not documented. The only remnants of the time is Stonehenge itself.

            Dr. Hawkins reiterates that the purpose of the Stonehenge, “the why”, they built it was to function as an observatory and delves further into discussing how the sun interacts with the stones and is indicative of an impeding eclipse as well as functioning as a marker of time. (For brevities sake, I won’t transcribe the step by step function of Stonehenge according to Dr. Hawkins).

            The main problem with Dr. Hawkins theory of Stonehenge being an observatory/computer is cited by Professor Atkinson as being the short timespan that people of this era had and how it wouldn’t be long enough to witness the 56 year ecliptic rotation let alone build a monument to predict it providing the lack of written record being passed down.

            Among the varying opinions and analysis done by the experts presented in the documentary, CBS Films ventured to Stonehenge to witness the rising of the Midsummer Solstice at Stonehenge to confirm Dr. Hawkins plotting analysis as well as film it for the first time adding substantial weight to his theory. The sun did rise above the heel stone as Dr. Hawkins predicted and further reaffirming that this was not a coincidence, the CBS crew recorded the lunar eclipse later that year as well. Unfortunately, neither party could provide substantial evidence as to why the people built Stonehenge, however, Dr. Hawkins theory of an observatory proves to be the most grounded in scientific theory.



Morgan, Harry. The Mystery of Stonehenge. CBS-TV (1965)

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