Journal of Skyscape Archaeology, Vol 3, No 1 (2017)

Whose Equinox?

Clive L. N. Ruggles
Issued Date: 9 Aug 2017



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DOI: 10.1558/jsa.33312


1. George Eogan, Knowth and the passage tombs of Ireland (London, 1986), 178.

2. In the literature on British archaeoastronomy they have been extensive. Mesoamerican examples include Anthony F. Aveni, Skywatchers of ancient Mexico (Austin, 1980), 263, 280, 329–30 n.7. The index to Archeoastronomia italiana by Giuliano Romano (Padua, 1992) lists innumerable pages on which equinozio occurs.

3. Aubrey Burl (The Stonehenge people (London, 1987), 44) suggests that the Stonehenge cursus “may have been rather casually laid out to mark the equinoctial sunrises of March and September”. According to R. J. Bradley and R. Chambers (“A new study of the cursus complex at Dorchester on Thames”, Oxford archaeological journal, vii (1988), 271–89, p. 286), “The earlier section of the Dorset cursus points straight at the midwinter sunset, just as the Stonehenge cursus is directed at equinoctial sunrise”. See also R. J. Bradley, Altering the Earth: The origin of monuments in Britain and Continental Europe (Edinburgh, 1993), 62; M. Parker-Pearson, Bronze Age Britain (London, 1993), 62; A. Gibson and others, “Excavations at the Sarn-y-bryn-caled cursus complex, Welshpool, Powys, and the timber circles of Great Britain and Ireland”, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, lx (1994), 143–223, p. 207; A. C. Renfrew and P. G. Bahn, Archaeology: Theory, methods and practice (2nd edn, London, 1996), 382; T. C. Darvill, Prehistoric Britain from the air (Cambridge, 1996), 254. The historian R. Hutton (The stations of the sun: The history of the ritual year in Britain (Oxford, 1996), 4–5), in attempting to sum up the evidence on astronomy in the prehistoric British Isles, considers only solstitial and supposed equinoctial alignments.

4. Cf. A. F. Aveni, “The Thom paradigm in the Americas: The case of the cross-circle designs”, in C. L. N. Ruggles (ed.), Records in stone (Cambridge, 1988), 442–72, pp. 442–5.

5. This is not, pace Eogan, the date when the length of night is equal to the length of day, because of the twilight periods before sunrise and after sunset. In any case, the point at which night can be deemed to have started is arbitrary and poorly defined. Cf. C. L. N. Ruggles, Astronomy in prehistoric Britain and Ireland (New Haven, 1998), Box Ast 8.

6. For details see ibid., Box Ast 5.

7. Aubrey Burl (“‘Without sharp north’: Alexander Thom and the great stone circles of Cumbria”, in Ruggles (ed.), Records in stone (ref. 4), 175–205, p. 201), for example, considers this improbable.

8. Even in early Roman times the date of the winter solstice was uncertain within three or four days (Hutton, op. cit. (ref. 3), 2).

9. For example, Fred Hoyle (“Speculations on Stonehenge”, Antiquity, xl (1966), 262–76, pp. 271–2) states that “the only concept of the equinox susceptible to measurement in 1850 BC was the day on which the directions of sunrise and sunset were separated by π”.

10. A. Lebeuf, private communication.

11. Ruggles, op. cit. (ref. 5), chap. 8. The idea of a strict temporal division of the year was fundamental to Thom’s “megalithic calendar”, but was only evidenced by statistical analyses of alignment data which have since been shown to have been highly selective (for a commentary see ibid., chap. 2).

12. See, e.g., E. E. Evans-Pritchard, The Nuer (Oxford, 1940), 103–8; A. W. R. Whittle, Problems in neolithic archaeology (Cambridge, 1988), 203.

13. C. Tilley, A phenomenology of landscape (Oxford, 1994), 14–17.

14. Ruggles, op. cit. (ref. 5), Box Arch 7.

15. Ibid., chap. 8.

16. See various papers by Hoskin and colleagues in the present and recent issues of this journal [i.e. Archaeoastronomy 22 (Journal for the History of Astronomy 28), 1997, and earlier issues].


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