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No. 17: Fall 1981

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Were the british megaliths built as scientific instruments?

Alexander Thom and his son have meticulously surveyed nearly 100 megalithic sites in Britain and nearby Europe. Archeologists generally applaud the Thoms' careful work but vehemently attack their conclusions. The Thoms see in their surveys evidence that the early Britons built megalithic astronomical instruments with scientific capabilities far beyond their needs for calendar-keeping. Actually, they suggest that these "primitive" people built a society so strong that it could devote time and labor to a program of astronomical research generations in extent. In short, they were precociously bright and socially strong; so much so that they could indulge their scientific desires.

The Thoms' prehistoric scenario departs radically from that of the current archeological establishment, which has searched for flaws in the Thoms' work. Naturally, some defects have emerged. Clive Ruggles, the author of the present article, is one of the skeptics. He feels that the megalithic sites are impressive and intriguing but not the work of mental giants. After all, Ruggles says, 72 points of the compass have some lunar significance. Almost any circle of stones built for simple ritual purposes would have some significant lunar alignments!

(Ruggles, Clive; "Prehistoric Astronomy: How Far Did It Go?" New Scientist, 90: 750, 1981.)

Comment. The kind of statistical argument reminds one of those monkeys who will eventually type out the works of Shakespeare. Presumably, the same monkeys could construct Stonehenge, given enough time.

Reference. Our Handbook Ancient Man contains abundant material on megalithic sites. For details, visit: here.

From Science Frontiers #17, Fall 1981. 1981-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987