Archive for the 'archaeoastronomy' Category



17
Nov
09

Friends of Grampian Stones 2002 Candlemas newsletter Vol.XIII #1

FEBRUARY CANDLEMAS NEWSLETTER 2002 Vol.XIII-1
Return of the Light

IMBOLC (Christian Candlemas) brings new light, the rise of spring, bird nesting activity, anticipation of the warmth and fecundity to come.

While markers within Neolithic stone circles were probably well-known to the contemporary population, we sometimes forget that each stone had its solar as well as its lunar function. We sometimes forget to experience sunset at all.

Sunset at Easter Aquhorthies one mile West of Inverurie is always a revelation. At Imbolc it is defined by a clear shadow of the recumbent ‘window’ group falling on two stones to the north of the shimmering jasper stone at the modern entrance. As sunset approaches in early February, one is mesmerized by the advancing shadow as it creeps towards the two smaller circumference stones. Precisely at the moment of sunset, they align exactly and then both sun and shadow are extinguished.

The jasper stone alone, it seems, holds a memory of the light, continuing to twinkle and gleam until dusk. Its quality of reflecting light must indeed have been revered.

Other miracles of light seem to happen at this time, significant to much later civilizations. The Hill of Barra, NJ803 257, has no known stone circle, but was an enclosed ramparted settlement of the Iron Age which continued as a hilltop stronghold in the Pictish era. From its summit, accessible via the Bourtie-Meldrum Community Walk, at least five stone circles are visible, but most compelling is the uninterrupted view of Mither Tap of Bennachie. Around 5pm, weather permitting, for 10 nights in mid-February the sun and Mither Tap do a dance. For the week of Imbolc, Bennachie’s mass engulfs the sun, swallowing the orb low into Mither Tap. But midway through this time period, a change occurs and she agrees to spit the sun back out! On February 17th, the sun starts its sunset roll into Mither Tap, is received by the mother mountain at 5pm and reappears seven minutes later on her northern crag. This rebirth, even to time-worn eyes, is a surprise. Mother mountain has given birth to the sun! One dimly understands the joy of celebration, seasonal change.The sun is almost playful in this rite of passage, setting for the next week in more of a roll than an extinction, as each of the peaks in turn along her broad back appears to rise to swallow its fire. ©2002MCY

Ringing in Changing Seasons

A FEW weeks of unseasonably fine weather called for a FOGS-run experiment at Garioch stone circles in central Aberdeenshire.

There are many 18th and 19thCC references to ringing stones at Grampian circles – among them Easter Aquhorthies, Balquhain, the Standing Stones of Dyce and Arnhill, Tillytarmont. For good measure a small group of FOGS tried to produce effects at a number of circles. Results were especially good where surrounding stones remain complete, and gave an amphitheatre of sound. One person struck or played a musical instrument within the inner ‘sanctuary’ or preciinct enclosed by the recumbent stone and flankers, while listeners stood or walked to various points within the circle.

At Easter Aquhorthies and Loanhead of Daviot, the best point for receiving the sound was on a mound [E.A.] or stone platform [Loanhead] marginally to N of centre where string chords or even voice reduced to a whisper were quite audible. At Easter Aquhorthies there is a kind of ‘tuning fork stone’ projecting inwards from the centre of the massive recumbent; it may have been set strategically as a sounding board because the human voice carries remarkably well from this stone – its vibrations spreading out and reverberating not only through the circle amphitheatre, but also creating a secondary echo resonance.

The group repeated the exercise at Loanhead, where there is no such ‘sounding’ stone, but where the recumbent is split in two. Hands clapped between the two slabs resulted in echoes felt by participants throughout the inner circle. Again the group tried the voice experiment at Kirkton of Bourtie circle – a damaged monument with much stone clearance clutter, and while they could feel resonance, much of the effect seemed to disperse, with no amphitheatre to ‘capture’ the sound.

Ultra- and infra-sound experiments recently replicated by groups in south Britain and at New Grange in the Boyne valley in Ireland, including much sophisticated equiment, gave sonic waves graphically recorded’.

The effect on our FOGS observers, to say the least, was tantalizing and exciting enough to suggest yet another side to the rituals enacted by Neolithic celebrants to mark the changing seasons.

Charting the Nation
CHARTING the Nation’ is a three year collaborative digital imaging and cataloguing project, whose primary aim is to widen access via the web to historic maps of Scotland and associated archives dating from 1590 to 1740. It is led by two researchers at the University of Edinburgh, Charles Withers and Andrew Grout.

one of 30 bull stones which ringed the Pictish promontory fort

Bull carved stone, one of 30 originally surrounding Pictish Burghead

UMOs
HENRY Moore Institute Leeds is currently showing a rare glimpse of Unidentified Museum Objects on loan from the British Museum. They include the unique phallic Portsoy whetstone, a carved ball and a Burghead bull. Sadly the exhibition will not travel farther north and so any FOGS keen to see the rarities will have until the end of the month to visit the Henry Moore Institute, Headway, Leeds. For non-travellers, details on the British Museum website.

Roman discoveries at Birnie

Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus

Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus (AD192-211)

TWO surprise hoards of Roman coins have been found in an Iron Age context at Birnie, Moray. In last year’s excavation, curator of Iron Age and Roman
archaeology with the National Museums of Scotland Fraser Hunter was delighted when a pot of Roman denarii turned up in excavations at an Iron Age settlement outside Elgin. The pot was broken, but contained some 300 coins dating to the reign of emperor Severus, last to attempt conquest of Pictish Caledonia, nearly 1800 years ago. Early this year another clay pot was unearthed – this one entire and undamaged – only 10 yards away from the former hoard. Both are in NMS undergoing conservation and examination.

‘Spiritual’ Tourism

FOGS has added its voice to two national bodies attempting to moderate the state-dominated attitude to digging up the past. It is based on our members’ respect for sacred sites in our own area and on the premise that laser scan and sonic technology [archaeoptics and infrasound] can arguably be used to better effect than digging into and disturbing a sacred space with the possibility of loss of ‘finds’.

‘Spiritual’ tourism – one which takes account of people’s need to visit a site for its sacredness in an atmosphere conducive to contemplation – is supported by the Cruithni Charter, ASLaN (AncientSacred Landscape Network) and countryside organizations, including SNH, Friends of the Earth, Council for Rural England and others concerned for the historic landscape. As ever, our view puts emphasis on education, in order to prevent degradation or defacement. Additional URLs: here and here.

Copyright ©2002-2009 FOGS & MCY

15
Nov
09

Friends of Grampian Stones Spring Equinox 1999 newsletter ‘X’-2

Spring Newsletter 1999 – Vernal Equinox Volume X number 2 (vol.X no 1 was Samhain 98 q.v.)

Picts, Kings, Saints, Chronicles

Pictish carved stone in Inverurie 'Castleyards' old kirkyard

Crescent and V-rod, sun-disk and serpent carved Pictish stone

A pictish one-day conference arranged in honour of Dr Marjorie O. Anderson on the occasion of her 90th birthday was held in the Quad lower college hall at the University of St Andrews on February 13th 1999. A collaboration by the School of History, Early Medieval Research Group, Scottish Studies Institute and Committee for Dark-Age Studies, its focus and its speakers ensured its success. It was fully booked. While Dr Anderson was unable to hear presentations because of illness, she would have marvelled at the excitement and energy generated in both lecture hall and lunchroom by speakers and delegates all pressing to share new developments in this emergent discipline. Drs Simon Taylor and Dauvit Broun unveiled new discoveries in placename survival and the St Andrews foundation legend (versions A and B); Profs. Richard Sharpe and Máire Herbert gave both insular and Irish slants on the political structure of Dál Riata; Isabel Henderson unveiled her theory on specific sculpture schools of the Picts; while both Prof. David Dumville and Dr David Howlett, of Universities of Cambridge and Oxford respectively, kept delegates on tenterhooks with their expositions on the Chronicle of Kings of Alba and on the sacred numerology of its 12thC verse equivalent, the anonymous De Situ Albanie.  Prof. Archie Duncan pulled the audience into the present millennium with his fine elucidation of the Melrose and Holyrood Pictish Chronicles, followed by an immaculate summation and tribute to Mrs Anderson by Prof.Geoffrey Barrow of the University of Edinburgh. He concluded, along with the authors of ‘1066 and All That’ that [the conference, sources and] chronicles were ‘a damn good thing.’  He (along with us) awaits somewhat impatiently the publication of ‘all these riches’.  Members who would like to be advised either of further conferences or publications produced by Dr Barbara Crawford’s Committee for Dark-Age Studies or of details of membership in Dr Simon Taylor’s Scottish Placename Society can write to St Andrews Scottish Studies Institute, University of St Andrews, Fife KY16 9AL. Details of Scottish Placename Society’s webpage are given here.                                             ©1999MCY

FOGS Membership feedback. . .

WHITECROSS Equinox

ABERDEEN member Dr Theodore Allan remarks on  the Hill of Whitecross one mile south of Chapel of Garioch at NJ 717 225, visible from the recumbent circle of Balquhain but not from Easter Aquhorthies. His interest is apt at this time of year, as it is a marker hill for sunset on the Feast Day of  Bride (Candlemas, and incidentally at its opposite season, Martinmas). However its derivation as the Hill of the White Cross or Crossing may stem from its sacred point of the moon’s crossing or setting – as seen from Balquhain – at the end of summer, the pagan White season, and the point where the full moon sets once in 19 years at its minor standstill. This should be a hill to watch in the summer of 2014 at the next standstill! The physical crossing of the hill must also have had significance to Bronze Age and Pictish descendants, as anyone who has walked the Netherton of Balquhain road can testify.  Leaving behind in the east the Bronze Age burial cairn on Dilly Hill, NJ 751 224, and walking due west, not only does the outline of the Hill of Whitecross draw the eye but for a mile and a half the traveller’s visiion is filled with the sacred shape of the Mother mountain Bennachie. At Burnside of Balquhain, NJ 730 225, where the road turns sharply north, the walker can clearly see how the old road used to rise directly west to Whitecross, itself topped by a cairn. An added delight for placename enthusiasts is the name of this miniscule valley created by the burn which springs on Whitecross’ lower slopes, flows past Burnside and Mains of Balquhain, turning to join the Urie at Drimmies (which Pictophiles will know has its own symbol stone:  it is the Strathnaterick, valley of the serpent of ancient wisdom. This lonely stretch of road, now mostly used by farm traffic, is an inspiration to walk on a spring evening. Thanks to Dr Allan for his observations.

BLUE MOON

TWO OF our regulars communicate on the phenomenon of this year’s blue moons, first in January and now in March; Griselda Macgregor in Inverurie and Trevor Alcott in Crimond are both interested in lunar activity, although from slightly different angles: Ms Macgregor requests the reason for the use of the term ‘Blue Moon’, i.e. for two full moons in the month, while Mr. Alcott likes to extrapolate grander figures of moons in the Metonic cycle.  We might cover both in a limited way.  First, we find  no-one in any context outside Scotland, and perhaps even outside the  bounds of Aberdeenshire, using the term ‘blue moon’ to mean two full moons in the month [in 1999, January 2: 0250; 31:1607, accompanied by a visible penumbal lunar eclipse at 1619; March 2: 0659; 31: 2249 – all times GMT]. The fact that February this year had no full moon at all is purely a figment of modern man’s calculations, as our forefathers when they spoke of the moon, meant the month, and vice versa.  The arbitrary nature of the ‘phenomenon’ can  be seen, particulary in the second March date, to occur only from Europe west, and not for instance, in Australia, where the second full moon falls within April. While not answering the question, we open the door to any contributions from members who have NE knowledge of folkloric or traditional useage.

LUNAR STANDSTILLS

We have touched on standstill moons before, as the time once every  18.61 years that the moon is seen at its most erratic in the night sky, behaving as if with a ‘wobble’. We receive several calls a year requesting more detail for stone-watchers with astronomical leanings – the latest from a member in Edinburgh who prefers anonymity.

Trevor Alcott puts it simply:

‘Correction for our latitude (57ºN approx) is, according to Reed’s Nautical Almanac, seven minutes. The rule is, when declination is north, subtract from moonrise time and add to moonset time. Reverse applies if declination is south. Our biggest problem is one with which mariners do not have to cope, i.e. the height and distance of the horizon relative to the observer, but I promise, you don’t want to know!  The easiest way is to observe a few full moons, note the times, and correct from the nautical times for that particular observation point.’ 

Sensible man.  So, for those early birds preparing for their next maximum and minimum moonset and moonrise, when the moon’s motion relative to other months  is distinctly wobbly,  may we suggest marking your diary now: 

Next major standstill at the full moon nearest to winter solstice occurs in 2005, when the full moon will rise in midwinter at the most northerly point it ever rises.

Next minor standstill, or full moon nearest to summer solstice, happens in 2014.

If we are spared, we may try for a gathering for wobble watchers at a stone circle to compare notes.
©MCY 1999-2009




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