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Maeshowe Winter Solstice As Viewed By Neolithic Man (Scotland)
The Scotsman ^ | 12-15-2005 | Caroline Wickham-Jones

Posted on 12/17/2005 11:52:34 AM PST by blam

Maeshowe winter solstice as viewed by Neolithic man

CAROLINE WICKHAM-JONES

Maeshowe winter solstice as viewed by Neolithic man

Maeshowe is managed by Historic Scotland. Picture: Charles Tait Photographic

THE GREAT mound of Maeshowe has dominated the skyline of Orkney for almost 5,000 years. It is a spectacular sight and a visit to the chambered tomb provides one of the highlights for visitors to the Orkney islands. Today, as we stoop to enter and walk down the low 11 metre passage to the chamber with its massive stonework, we are reminded of the ingenuity of those original builders.

Its apparent uniformity masks a long and complex history of change. The story of Maeshowe began at midwinter around 3,000 BC and even today it is the winter solstice that really brings the monument to life.

It was, no doubt, used throughout the year, but the most important time was the midwinter solstice on 21 December. Around this time the setting sun hangs low in the sky and shines directly along the passage to strike across the main chamber into the rear cell. A shaft of light pierces the monument. The angle of the passage is designed to allow a leeway for several days either side of the solstice. So even if midwinter is cloudy, there are likely to be clear days that allow the passage of the sun. The phenomenon attracts people from across the world to this place of ancient worship.

The stone interior of Maeshowe has had many uses over the centuries. Picture: Charles Tait Photographic

Maeshowe is one of the largest burial mounds of Neolithic Europe. It was built by the Stone Age farmers of Neolithic Orkney as a place of ceremony and ritual. We do not know precisely what went on here, but comparison with other sites suggests that it was designed to be visited repeatedly by a select group of the community. It is likely that the rituals involved the dead and that the bones of some were laid to rest here. By the time Maeshowe was re-discovered by archaeologist James Farrer in 1861, the original contents of the chamber had long since disappeared, so piecing together the picture of this great site has been slow.

The earliest remains at Maeshowe comprise a structure, perhaps a small ceremonial centre, about 5,000 years old, which was subsequently levelled and covered with clay to create a circular platform, surrounded by a ditch and bank, and known today as a henge. A setting of tall standing stones was erected next, four of which formed the heart of the great chamber that lay at the centre of the mound that was subsequently built on the platform. The setting of the stones was crucial for they allowed the mound builders to align the passage and chamber with the midwinter sun as it sets to the southwest.

The chamber is impressive, originally standing some five metres high, with three side rooms each roofed with a single flagstone. Where the entrance passage meets the outside world a carefully dressed and pivoted block can act to seal the chamber from the inside. Entry, it seems, was controlled. Architecturally Maeshowe is a masterpiece that must have involved complex engineering just to get the stones into place, but this was not all – the mound was carefully designed with layers of turf and clay to prevent damp from penetrating.

Maeshowe lies at the heart of a number of ceremonial settings, all built and used in Neolithic Orkney. This was a focus for the wider prehistoric population of the islands, but the importance of Maeshowe has not decreased with the passing of time. For many centuries the site acted as a focus for burial and the area was once dotted with smaller Bonze Age burial mounds. With the coming of the Vikings, Maeshowe really came into its own again.

Orkney was a thriving part of the Norse world, governed by local Earls who owed allegiance to the king in Norway. In the 12th century, Maeshowe was broken into on more than one occasion. One group of Norsemen, apparently returning from the crusades, sheltered in the tomb during a thunderstorm; others entered for other reasons. Inside the chamber they left their mark: the stone walls are covered by graffiti in the form of runic messages which vary in content from the boastful to the pornographic.

You can view this year's winter solstice over the web at Charles Tait's Maeshowe site. Picture: Charles Tait Photographic

One passage suggests that treasure was removed, which is puzzling because metal was unknown to the original Neolithic users of the monument. It may be that the tomb was used for the burial of a Viking noble. Whatever their motive, Maeshowe caught the imagination of the Norse inhabitants of the islands and the runes here comprise the largest collection outside Scandinavia.

Today, Maeshowe is still important and recognised as a World Heritage Site. There are so many visitors that Historic Scotland, who manages the property, has had to introduce a timed ticketing system. Do not worry if you wish to witness the winter solstice but can't make the journey. Cameras inside the tomb and relayed over the internet mean that anyone can now watch the sun as it enters the chamber, so carefully planned 5,000 years ago and still as fascinating today.

Caroline Wickham-Jones is an archaeologist who lives and works in Orkney.


TOPICS: News/Current Events; United Kingdom
KEYWORDS: archaeology; godsgravesglyphs; maeshowe; man; neolithic; scotland; solstice; viewed; winter; wintersolstice

1 posted on 12/17/2005 11:52:36 AM PST by blam
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To: blam

Maeshowe may show winter solstice?


2 posted on 12/17/2005 11:55:06 AM PST by Tax-chick ("Dick Cheney never trims his own nails. He simply stares at them until the tips melt off.")
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To: SunkenCiv

GGG Ping.


3 posted on 12/17/2005 11:55:22 AM PST by blam
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To: blam

Wow-

Excellent artical, thanks.


4 posted on 12/17/2005 11:57:07 AM PST by spaatzcadet
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To: blam

At Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland there is a similar structure. The difference is that the inner chamber is fully illuminated at sunrise on the winter solstice. It is estimated to have been built around 3200 B.C.

Standing inside cannot help but impress you with the skill and technology of these primitive people. Not only moving and assembling the huge stones, but aligning them perfectly for the desired effect.


5 posted on 12/17/2005 12:08:04 PM PST by JimRed ("Hey, hey, Teddy K., how many girls did you drown today?")
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To: blam

This is quite interesting, thanks for the post.


6 posted on 12/17/2005 12:09:51 PM PST by calex59 (Seeing the light shouldn't make you blind...)
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To: blam

From the articls: "The angle of the passage is designed to allow a leeway for several days either side of the solstice. So even if midwinter is cloudy, there are likely to be clear days that allow the passage of the sun."

Sounds like passive solar to me! Don't have to "worship Gods" to be farmers back then storing food stuffs for the winter. From the article: "It was built by the Stone Age farmers ".

From the article: " We do not know precisely what went on here"

I can't believe that this would be attached to pagan ritual, etc. (WEll yes I can). Ugh.

This is obviously meant to be a FOOD storage facility. Either for the locals or used for military purposes and most likely both.


7 posted on 12/17/2005 12:17:14 PM PST by Sweetjustusnow (Oust the IslamoCommies here and abroad.)
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To: blam
I have been to Orkney, and this site. It was probably one of the best vacations I have ever had. Everyone there is friendly (farmers hanging out of the tractor to wave hello) and the standing stones, cairns and other sites are unbelievable. You are able to crawl inside many of the tombs.
Orkney is definitely my favorite place that I have traveled to in the world! And Ive seen a bit of it.
8 posted on 12/17/2005 12:42:28 PM PST by Harry Pothead
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To: Harry Pothead

I concur with your opinion. I've traveled to many place in the world and Orkney is one of the best places I've visited.


9 posted on 12/17/2005 2:09:35 PM PST by xeno
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To: blam; FairOpinion; Ernest_at_the_Beach; StayAt HomeMother; 24Karet; 3AngelaD; asp1; ...
Thanks Blam.

To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list. Thanks.
Please FREEPMAIL me if you want on or off the
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10 posted on 12/17/2005 6:58:55 PM PST by SunkenCiv ("In silence, and at night, the Conscience feels that life should soar to nobler ends than Power.")
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To: Sweetjustusnow
I just love archaeoastronomy.
"The angle of the passage is designed to allow a leeway for several days either side of the solstice. So even if midwinter is cloudy, there are likely to be clear days that allow the passage of the sun.
IOW, the hole just happens to line up with the week the Solstice takes place (today, not when it was built).
11 posted on 12/17/2005 7:02:53 PM PST by SunkenCiv ("In silence, and at night, the Conscience feels that life should soar to nobler ends than Power.")
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To: blam
Here's a link to Historic Scotland's Maeshowe page.

Maeshowe Chambered Cairn

12 posted on 12/17/2005 7:11:35 PM PST by csvset
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I was trying to find an online source for this, but here goes (from a long ago memory):

On Napoleon's birthday, the sunrise can be seen right in the opening of the L'Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Sounds like great planning, must be intentional, eh? The sunrise does the same thing for 18 days. :')


13 posted on 12/17/2005 7:15:06 PM PST by SunkenCiv ("In silence, and at night, the Conscience feels that life should soar to nobler ends than Power.")
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To: JimRed

For those interested in Newgrange, here is some very detailed and interesting info:

Long version:

http://www.mythicalireland.com/astronomy/ancientastronomers.html

Abbreviated version:

http://www.mythicalireland.com/ancientsites/newgrange-facts/astronomy.php



14 posted on 12/17/2005 10:19:32 PM PST by annie laurie (All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost)
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To: blam

.....Maeshowe is one of the largest burial mounds of Neolithic Europe......

I do not think this is a burial mound. There apparently is no evidence today of very ancient burials. There mave been burials there at a later date but I don't think that was the primary purpose.

The purpose of the structure and the enormous labor expense is far more important than a burial. The structure is a solar clock. It is a time telling device. It may or may not be religious but it is likely that the ceremonies associated with the structure were administered by the religious rather than the political leadership.

The presence of similar solar time pieces everywhere in the world is evidence of technology transferred over time all across the human presence on earth.


15 posted on 12/18/2005 5:15:38 AM PST by bert (K.E. ; N.P . McCain......Angry, frustrated,flustered, shot down.)
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To: blam

Really interesting, looks like a great part of history to visit.


16 posted on 12/18/2005 8:17:42 AM PST by Dustbunny (Main Stream Media -- Making 'Max Headroom' a reality.)
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To: blam

Winter solstice bump.


17 posted on 12/18/2005 11:17:21 AM PST by Ciexyz (Let us always remember, the Lord is in control.)
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To: Ciexyz

Native Americans here (N. CA) conduct a "world renewal" ceremony each year. It would seem that winter would be the time of extreme hardship to Neolithic people. They would be anxious for long sunny days to return. Solstice marks that turning point. It would seem natural to me that they would have some sort of participatory or symbolic ceremony to entice or ensure the return of sunny days and speed the turn of the season.


18 posted on 12/18/2005 12:29:02 PM PST by marsh2
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To: marsh2

Modern society is so removed from total dependence upon the seasons, that it's hard to imagine ancient times when winter meant life or death, depending on whether your fired stayed lit, whether you'd managed to garner enough food for the winter, whether you fell thru an ice crevice while hunting like Otzi....


19 posted on 12/18/2005 8:03:11 PM PST by Ciexyz (Let us always remember, the Lord is in control.)
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To: Sweetjustusnow; blam
I think you're on to something. From this article:

Maeshowe The megalithic mound

it appears that the entrance was illuminated by the setting sun for 22 days on either side of the solstice. So the sun was a "refrigerator light" just before suppertime in the winter. Another article reported that the passageway sloped up toward the interior, so melting ice could drain. The ditch around the outside reminds me of the "French" drains around my house. Some possibilities:

1. The main chamber was used to store meat. The recesses might have held extra ice collected during the winter.
2. The structure was used to store grain and vegetables. The recesses might have been large silos, if the usual small in-ground silos were not used.
3. This was used to store the community supply of beer, and the sun announced "happy hour".

Whatever the purpose, are some of the mysterious stone rings elsewhere just incomplete "frames" for similar structures? Is Stonehenge just a neolithic boondoggle that could not be finished?
20 posted on 01/07/2006 6:54:38 AM PST by Ragnar54
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To: Ciexyz
"whether you fell thru an ice crevice while hunting like Otzi...."

Oetzi was killed. He died from an arrow wound through the back but, he went down fighting because he had the blood of four other people on his clothes.

21 posted on 01/07/2006 8:26:45 AM PST by blam
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To: blam

Thanks for clarifying Otzi's death. I didn't know he went down fighting like Conan the Barbarian. Way to go, Otzi!


22 posted on 01/07/2006 11:49:00 AM PST by Ciexyz (Let us always remember, the Lord is in control.)
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To: SunkenCiv
Can you recommend any books that explore alternative explanations to structures such as Maeshowe? Not everything should be left to "pagan ritual".
23 posted on 01/08/2006 11:41:29 AM PST by Ragnar54
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To: Ragnar54

Years ago, Wunderlich expressed, uh, wonder that the bathtub-shaped art found by Evans at Knossos were heralded (by him, and all the well-washed Victorian upper classes) as part of the first indoor plumbing system in Europe, while more level-headed excavators called them what they are -- bathtub-shaped sarcophagi.

It's a little odd that some of these sites are supposed observatories, while others are considered passage graves and other kinds of tombs (in nearly every case, already robbed of whatever they'd held, long ago). Y'know, 'cause that's what all of them (or perhaps just the overwhelming majority) are. ;')

No books come to mind. I recall reading recently a story I'd heard a while back -- that a carving found on Stonehenge appeared to show a Mycenaean knife, which led the discoverer and many others to believe that there was some sort of trade link between Britain and Mycenaean Greece (this is something that wouldn't come as that much of a surprise to me, but anyway...). Eventually the position got stretched out to say that Stonehenge was itself a monument of some Mycenaean ruler.

Then along came scientific dating, and it was found that Stonehenge antedates Mycenaean Greece by at least 1000 years (in my view, more like 1500). Megalithic structures all over Britain and Europe (and even on Malta; not too sure about those mysterious towers that cover the landscape of Corsica) are generally centuries older than the Great Pyramid.

This is not to say that a bunch of early Britons got bored after building 'em, and then headed for Giza. ;')

Neolithic France
Archaeology | May/June 2005 | Jennifer Pinkowski
Posted on 04/21/2005 10:03:22 AM PDT by SunkenCiv
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-chat/1388289/posts

Malta’s Magnificent Hypogeum
The Cultured Traveler | May 2001 | Patrick Totty
Posted on 09/21/2004 11:07:49 PM PDT by SunkenCiv
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-chat/1223204/posts

New Dating For Wat's Dyke
History Today | August 1999 | Keith Nurse
Posted on 07/30/2004 7:13:00 AM PDT by SunkenCiv
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-chat/1181689/posts


24 posted on 01/08/2006 8:02:08 PM PST by SunkenCiv (FReep this URL -- https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/pledge)
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To: SunkenCiv

Thanks!


25 posted on 01/09/2006 1:31:07 PM PST by Ragnar54
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To: Ragnar54

My pleasure!


26 posted on 01/09/2006 9:45:10 PM PST by SunkenCiv (FReep this URL -- https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/pledge)
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To: Ragnar54
not too sure about those mysterious towers that cover the landscape of Corsica
Whoops. The towers are on Sardinia. [blush] There are towers on Corsica, but they were built by Genoa in the 16th c. ;') Anyway, the Sardinian towers are coming soon to a FR topic near you. :'D
27 posted on 01/09/2006 9:47:58 PM PST by SunkenCiv (FReep this URL -- https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/pledge)
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Sardinia's prehistoric towers
Science Frontiers | No. 55: Jan-Feb 1988 | William R. Corliss
Posted on 01/09/2006 10:13:36 PM PST by SunkenCiv
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/chat/1555139/posts


28 posted on 01/09/2006 10:16:05 PM PST by SunkenCiv (FReep this URL -- https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/pledge)
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To: Ragnar54

There are many possibilities that are more common sense then the constant pagan worship theme.

Thanks for the follow up.


29 posted on 01/11/2006 10:03:22 AM PST by Sweetjustusnow (Oust the IslamoCommies here and abroad.)
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To: blam

Solstice flag!

That story is current also for this year, and at that story, they have a link to the site where they show a webcam for the arrival of the sun's rays.


30 posted on 12/20/2006 7:58:54 PM PST by BlackVeil
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To: blam

*


31 posted on 12/20/2006 8:00:24 PM PST by Sam Cree (don't mix alcopops and ufo's - absolute reality)
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32 posted on 11/14/2010 7:16:36 PM PST by SunkenCiv (The 2nd Amendment follows right behind the 1st because some people are hard of hearing.)
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