Book Review: Stonehenge Decoded by Gerald S. Hawkins
Rating – Five Stars
Hawkins weaves a compelling narrative as he decodes the mysteries of the monument dubbed Stonehenge—an astronomical observatory lying on the Salisbury Plain in southwestern England. It’s a monumental temple with intricate celestial alignments concealed in apparent simplicity and symmetry of design. He posits that Stonehenge is the eighth wonder of the world.
His writing style is easy—clearly written for the layman. His explanations of technical details of the site are readily understandable. However, some his astronomical conclusions are beyond my skill level. Nonetheless, one can skip these details without losing the thread of his narrative. Outstanding graphics are exceptionally well annotated as are relevant photographs with cogent captions.
Archeologists estimate that the British began building Stonehenge about 2000 B.C. and finished around 1500 B.C. It was built in three eras—each about 150 years apart. The building of this temple to the sun and moon required its creators to have absolutely extraordinary theoretical and planning abilities and superb transportation and engineering skills—far beyond what we would have imagined of these people.
Significantly, the latitude of Stonehenge is sited at the almost perfect optimum for sun-moon rectangular alignments. There is only one latitude in the northern climes at which the extreme declinations of the azimuths of the sun and moon are separated by exactly ninety degrees. Stonehenge’s placement and orientation is within a few miles of this position—an error of only 0.2 degrees. The odds are astronomical that the builders chose this location by chance. They computed it.
The positioning of the large stones (some of the sarsen stones weigh as much as 40 tons) in precise astronomic alignment demanded critical astronomical and engineering skills. Such skills are beyond those possessed by most 20th century men.
Hawkins asks why so much energy, time, and physical and sociological resources were expended to build Stonehenge. We do not know. He suggests that they created this astronomical calendar for two reasons:
- It was an agricultural calendar used to compute the beginning of the seasons to plant crops and for other sociological purposes.
- It was for religious purposes—to create and maintain priestly power. For example, to predict the summer and winter solstices, many moon phenomena, and eclipses.
Hawkins concludes, “There are doubtless many remarkable things yet to be discovered about Stonehenge.”
I highly recommend this book for aficionados of this megalithic monument.