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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