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KRONOS Vol IV, No. 3
The Stones Of Ballochroy
Copyright (c) 1979 by Dwardu Cardona.
1. Cara Isle.
About twelve miles south of Tarbert, on the west coast of the Kintyre peninsula, Scotland, one comes across the standing stones of Ballochroy. This megalithic site consists of three menhirs set in line with each other and a kist (or cist), i.e. a sepulchral chest constructed of stone slabs. Seven miles away is the tiny island of Cara. It has been noted that, at midwinter, the Sun sets behind Cara Isle as seen in line with the menhirs on Kintyre. Alexander Thom and his followers have seen in this site an ancient solar observatory.
In the opposite direction to Cara, to the northeast, is an unobtrusive outcrop which is also in line with the stones and the kist. According to Thom, the line to this outcrop indicates Castor, the first star in the constellation Gemini.
There is another factor which makes the Ballochroy menhirs outstanding. Two of the stones, one 6 and the other 11 feet high, are flat slabs placed on edge. They are both oriented 90° to the Cara Isle sight line. A line extended from the 11-foot middle slab would pass through Corra Beinn (or Bheinn), one of the mountain peaks (or paps) on the island of Jura across the sound that bears the same name. As it happens, the midsummer Sun sets behind Corra Beinn.
The menhirs at Ballochroy, therefore, mark a spot where the midwinter and midsummer sunsets are 90° apart. These megalithic markers, argues Thom, could not be there at that precise spot by coincidence. A formidable argument, as Velikovsky would say; I agree.
[Image: The Ballochroy stones, looking toward Cara Isladn showing the kist in line with the stones and the path of the midwinter setting Sun. (After Hadingham).]
[Image: Plan of Ballochroy (After Thom). Labels: To outcrop. To Corra Beinn. To Cara Island. Kist.]
*!* Image INSERT KIV3_24.TIF HERE
Ballochroy is one of the sites that Dr. Euan MacKie chose as the foundation of his argument against Dr. Velikovsky's proposed axial shifts of the 15th, 8th, and 7th centuries B.C. As MacKie himself stated in the pages of Pensee, no one before him had analyzed Thom's findings with the catastrophic theory in mind.(1) Now that he has, he finds Velikovsky's theory wanting. Although the "sudden" appearance of these megalithic sites,(2) the "sudden" termination of the building activity, and the present state of the ruins speak favorably for catastrophism, MacKie finds that their astronomical alignments speak against any axial or orbital shifts since the time in which they were erected. Any such shifts, he argues, and he argues well, would have left these megalithic markers in disoriented alignments and none would today "point" to the astronomic occurrences that make of them such exact observational indicators. MacKie's deductions, however, rest on three very crucial conditions:
1)That these astronomic alignments are, in fact, as genuine as he and Thom assume them to be;
2) That the present alignments can only be made to fit the present celestial order;
3)That the monuments themselves were, in fact, erected prior to the catastrophes of the 8th and 7th centuries B.C.
To be fair to MacKie I must here point out that he himself has already taken these considerations into account. My aim, here and elsewhere,(3) is to re-examine them.
In this, I will not be the first to criticize Thom's analysis and conclusions. Although his method has been less harshly criticized than Hawkins' "decoding" of Stonehenge, it remains unaccepted by many of his colleagues at the time of this writing.(4)
Thom calls the "solstitial" site at Ballochroy "the most interesting and instructive"(5) (emphasis added). M.E. Bailey, J.A. Cooke, R.W. Few, J.G. Morgan, and C.L.N. Ruggles all support Thom's assertion that the Ballochroy site was constructed for the observation of the midwinter and midsummer setting of the Sun at approximately 1600 B.C.(6) – even though this date has been variously given by various authors.(7) A.J. Meadows indicates that fortuity would not be likely to produce such orientations.(8) We shall see.
The fact that the ancient builders selected a site where the midwinter and midsummer sunsets are almost exactly 90° apart sounds impressive. Actually, any site constructed anywhere on or close to latitude 55°.7, on which Ballochroy is situated, would automatically fill the same bill. With so many supposed "calendric sites" scattered all over Scotland,(9) had the ancients really selected this locality for this precise purpose, one would surely expect to find more sites situated on or close to the same latitude.
Still, we must not dismiss the "significance" of this site too lightly. Quite seriously, we ask: Did the ancient builders choose this site because of the 90° angle that separates the two most important sunsets in the solar calendar? This might have been so but the final judgment must rest on the accuracy of the sight lines thus delineated.
Despite Meadows' words, above, to call the choice of this site fortuitous had always been tempting – especially in view of the fortuity and false application of sight lines to be described elsewhere.(10) But first things being first, let us examine some of the dates that have been claimed for this site.
During August and September of 1973, members of the Cambridge University Astronomical Society remeasured the alignments at Ballochroy.(11) Their results support Thom's contention. The dates they came up with for the alignments, however, seem somewhat at odds. They gave 1580 (±100) B.C. for the Cara Isle sight line; 1640 (±70) B.C. for the Corra Beinn sight line; and 1600 (±70) B.C. for a not-too-often-discussed sight line running from the kist to Corra Beinn which also indicates the midsummer sunset. This makes the Cara Isle sight line the youngest. But, as Thomas McCreery pointed out,(12) the obvious procedure in constructing the site would have been to align the three stones and the kist with Cara before orienting the slabs with Corra Beinn. It definitely would have been the simplest method.
Thom himself gives the date of the Castor alignment as 1820 B.C.(13) Since the line running to the outcrop which indicates this star is the same one running to Cara in reverse, it makes the entire supposition a rather incongruous one. Did the builders first align the stones with Castor knowing that 300 years later the same sight line would coincide with the midwinter setting Sun as it brushed the island of Cara in the opposite direction? Or how could the same prehistoric astronomical sight line be allotted two widely divergent dates? - McCreery explains:
We grant archeoastronomers the above. But then we ask: If dates are variously arrived at by various investigators, who are we to have faith in? For, if we accept Bailey's dates as being more accurate than Thom's, the line running to the outcrop in question could not have indicated Castor. By 1580 B.C., the star's declination would have shifted. We notice that, in a later work of his, published in 1971, but revised and corrected in 1973,(15) Thom wisely omits any mention of the Castor sight line.
Despite all this, the peculiarity of the Ballochroy location had for long troubled me. But my suspicions were early aroused by the fact that MacKie, in his two published attempts to disprove Velikovsky,(16) omitted all mention of the Cara Island sight line in his discussion of Ballochroy. Since the inclusion of this sight line would have been much to MacKie's advantage, the omission was, to say the least, curious.
In August of 1976, I approached Dr. MacKie and appealed to him for illumination.(17) His reply was as follows:
I draw the reader's attention to MacKie's statement: "If genuine ... it does make the case stronger." My suspicions were verified, MacKie also had his doubts. More than that, in an earlier article of his, to which MacKie himself was kind enough to draw my attention, he had reason to question the accuracy of the sight line. There, he states:
Now Gerald Hawkins, for one, does not seem to have much use for Thom's natural foresights. As one of his criteria for the accurate interpretation of such sites, he offers this: That "Alignments Should Be Restricted to Man-made Markers."(20) He states:
Of Ballochroy itself, Hawkins had this to say:
But an obstacle here arises. As one of the constraints on supposed sight lines, Bailey, et al., emphasized those sites where the indicated horizon happens to be obscured by the very line of stones which are acting as an indicator.(23)
This applies to Ballochroy because if the observer had to stand in line with the menhirs, the stones themselves would hide Cara from view.
But let us, in order to be fair, assume that the megalithic observer was allowed to step from behind the stones once the indicating line was duly noted. In the case of Ballochroy, not even this is allowable. As Evan Hadingham stated:
Obviously Hadingham did not recognize this for the obstacle it is because he continued to applaud the alignment to Cara in spite of it. But MacKie did not miss the point and his words strike the death knell for the Cara Island sight line:
In other words, the cairn would have hidden the setting Sun entirely from view. At this point we would have liked to write finis to the Cara Island sight line but by 1977, and despite the above, MacKie had not yet given up on the subject. In a new attempt, he offered the following:
We wonder what happened to MacKie's own former admittance that "the chosen western end" over which the Sun actually sets, "is not marked at all precisely". We also feel bound to ask: Where are Thom's careful measurements that MacKie speaks of? – for, it seems to us, MacKie and the rest of Thom's followers have created more ado over the Cara Island sight line than Thom himself ever intended.
Thom's first paper on megalithic astronomy appeared in October of 1954. In that paper, Thom had already discussed the Ballochroy site. He spoke highly of it but was wise enough not to include it in his histogram because the island boasts three separate knolls while the alignment does not differentiate between them.(28) Furthermore, Thom classes his alignments into three groups – A, B, and C.(29) Up till 1974, he was still classing the Cara Island sight line in group B,(30) that which, to use his own words, "contains borderline cases".
Thus we can, with MacKie, ignore the possibility that the kist was originally covered by a cairn – in fact one can honestly ask: If the cairn burying the kist was that much older than the menhirs, could not the erectors of the standing stones have removed it and thus unblocked the view of Cara? Everything is possible – but the fact remains that, cairn or no cairn, the midwinter Sun set(s) much too far to the north of the stone row. In fact, despite the latitude of 55°.7, the 90° angle which separates the two sunsets at this locality as it is shown in Thom's plan,(31) is only a myth. Neither the stone row nor the orientation of the stones "points" directly to either of the two sunsets under consideration. The line running through the row would have to be shifted to the north if this is to indicate accurately the moment of midwinter sunset, thus spoiling the 90° angle between it and the flat sides of the oriented slabs. Meanwhile, the oriented slabs themselves point to the paps and not to the actual moment of sunset which takes place well to the north of the indicated slope and is actually hidden behind the island of Jura. The actual sunsets do take place approximately 90° apart but in order for the stone arrangement to indicate this accurately, the entire plan would have to be rotated clockwise by about 5°.
2. Corra Beinn.
So much for Cara Island but what about the paps? From at least as far back as 1965, Thom has laid more stress on the importance of this sight line than that running to Cara Island.(32) Up until 1974, he was still classing this line in group A,(33) that which "contains those lines which it is considered would be accepted by any unbiased observer".(34) Obviously, in this case, as in most others, the ancients did not mean to mark the actual moment of sunset which, as we have said, would be hidden behind the bulk of Jura. What they meant to indicate, supposedly, was the path of the setting Sun as its upper limb brushed the slope of one of the paps. According to Thom, MacKie, and Hadingham, the central stone indicates the pap known as Ben Corra or Corra Beinn accurately. The slope of this mountain has a declination of +24° 10'.(35) If we subtract from this the 16' of the Sun's apparent semi-diameter and project the new value (+23° 54') back in time with the aid of the uniformitarian Newcomb formula, we reach a date somewhere in or around 1800 B.C. for the setting of the midsummer Sun. This date, which under uniformitarian tenets should also match that of the construction of the monument, seems to fit that derived from other sources. "Clearly," MacKie tells us, "powerful arguments would need to be marshalled against this apparently neat coincidence if a catastrophic interpretation were favored. "(36)
Are we, again, going to blame all this on fortuity? It depends on what one means by "all this". The alignment to Cara Island has already gone up in smoke as has the "significance" of the 90° angle between the two sunsets. All that we are left with at this site is this one alignment in the direction of Corra Beinn. May we note, for starters, that MacKie's date does not match that derived by the Cambridge University Astronomical Society? – 1640 (+70) B.C. is, at best, a hundred years younger than 1800 B.C. Granted, the later date can be considered a refinement on the former but, with various formulas used by various investigators, how can we really be sure of this?
We also note, as others have before us, that Corra Beinn is not the only mountain visible from Ballochroy. The bulk of Jura, as seen from this spot, boasts six other peaks; nor is Corra Beinn the most prominent of the lot. Now I do not wish to be accused of splitting too many hairs by the layman; the initiated will of course realize that the hairs I split are not as thin as all that. But this time I will not offer any arguments. I will let MacKie himself do that for me.
He starts by stating:
Here Clive Ruggles comes to the rescue:
But we can't accept this because, even on uniformitarian terms, according to M. Rubin and H.E. Suess, glacial ice was still advancing 3300 ± 200 years ago.(39) Since Ruggles accepts 1600 B.C.(40) in lieu of MacKie's 1800 B.C. as the date of the Ballochroy/Corra Beinn alignment, this glaciation, which uniformitarian scientists are in the habit of ignoring, comes close enough to ruining the very observations that Ruggles seeks to defend.
Elsewhere, MacKie brings greater obstacles to bear on the problem:
[*!* Image: The paps of Jura. Towards Cara Island. Modern Building. (After Mackie)]
[*!* Image: Beinn a chaolais. Corra Beinn. Indicated by S1. Indicated by S2. Declination +20° -9' is mealingless]
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We remember the intelligence which Thom attributes to the megalithic builders and we therefore wonder, if precision and unambiguity were what they sought, why they did not erect the stones on the spot MacKie suggested. But then we also remember that there is more than one oriented stone at Ballochroy. To what did the right hand one, that which Thom designates as S1, "point"? Up until 1967, Thom silently evaded this issue (of the years following, we shall speak anon) but MacKie dutifully answered the question for us:
The declination of Beinn a Chaolais does not even indicate a secondary "date"; it falls in the void midway between a primary and a secondary one and MacKie rightly considers it of no significance.(43) Yet stone S1 "points" to this astronomical nothing indicated by Beinn a Chaolais just as clearly and just as accurately as stone S2 does toward the midsummer sunset indicated by Corra Beinn. Is it really unscholarly, therefore, to consider the alignment from S2, the only "valid" one out of four, as merely fortuitous? Or is this only wishful thinking on the part of a Velikovskian scholar? But does not MacKie himself, in a somewhat round-about way, come to a somewhat similar conclusion? Consider his words:
Finally, he ends with:
To these objections of MacKie we add none of our own. In fact we only differ from MacKie in this: That whereas he, despite his own objections, continued to opt in favor of a uniformitarian interpretation,(47) we prefer to take his objections at face value.
Let us be honest. The only saving grace at Ballochroy is the alignment to Corra Beinn, a foresight which MacKie himself calls imprecise and ambiguous. Meanwhile, if the menhirs were meant to serve as celestial markers, stone S1 would not have been quarried, dragged, positioned, erected, and especially oriented for naught. If the intention behind all this toil was to indicate something in the sky, that something no longer exists to be indicated. Now we think it logical to believe that all three stones were erected for the same or similar purpose. So that if, on the other hand, S1 was never meant to indicate an astronomical occurrence, we will then have to assume that neither was S2.
With Thom, it is a different story. Having, up until 1967, ignored the orientation of stone S1, he then focuses on this particular menhir as of prime importance.
In 1954, he wrote:
In 1965, he repeated the same assertion:
But his 1967 text completely ignores S2 and focuses on S1:
The north-east stone is S1. What happened to the famed sight line from S2 which is actually shown in the diagram (p. 142) of the same work as the one indicating Corra Beinn?
That Thom had not confused S1 with S2 over the period of time is ascertained by the fact that he continued to opt in favor of S1 in an even later work:
Since both of these last referenced works were revised and corrected in the later editions from which I purposely quote, there is no question that, in this instance, Thom really had a change of mind. A change of mind is acceptable for, after all, we are all of us prone to second thoughts; but Thom's preference for S1 cannot be - and for the following reasons:
Despite the fact that the Sun can be seen setting along the slope of Corra Beinn as seen from S1, that particular stone does not indicate Corra Beinn's slope. As MacKie pointed out, it is toward Beinn a Chaolais that S1 is oriented. If Megalithic man intended to use S1, despite its orientation toward Beinn a Chaolais, as indicating Corra Beinn, then there was no need for the stones to have been oriented in the first place.
It seems, as McCreery pointed out,(52) that Thom's criterion for choosing alignments is wanting.
NOTES1. E.W. MacKie, "Megalithic Astronomy and Catastrophism," in Pensee (Winter 1974-75), p. 6.
2. In the above article, MacKie treats of more sites besides Ballochroy. Concerning some of these other sites, the present author intends to write at a future date.
3. In a forthcoming series of articles by this writer.
4. R. Wernick, The Monument Builders (New York, 1973), p. 118.
5. A. Thom, Megalithic Sites in Britain, (Oxford University, 1967-74), p. 151.
6. M.E. Bailey and J.A. Cooke, "Survey of Three Megalithic Sites in Argyllshire," in Nature, Vol. 253, (Feb. 6, 1975), pp. 431-432.
7. See below.
8. A.J. Meadows, "Ancient Observatories," in Nature, Vol. 253, 395.
9. See, for instance, A. Thom, op. cit., pp. 97-101 and elsewhere in same work.
10 See note #3 above.
11. M.E Bailey and J.A. Cooke, op. cit., pp. 431-432.
12. T. McCreery to D. Cardona, private communique, Jan. 16, 1978.
13. A. Thom, op. cit., p.97.
14. T. McCreery to D. Cardona, private communique, Aug. 8,1978.
15. A. Thom, Megalithic Lunar Observatories (Oxford University, 1971-3), p. 37.
16. E.W. MacKie, op. cit.; Idem, "Megalithic Astronomy," in the Society for Interdisciplinary Studies Review, Vol. I, No. 2 (Spring 1976).
17. D. Cardona to E.W. MacKie, private communique, Aug. 8, 1976.
18. E.W. MacKie to D. Cardona, private communique, Aug. 23,1976.
19. Idem, "Archaeological Tests on Supposed Prehistoric Astronomical Sites in Scotland," in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 276 (Sec. A, "The Place of Astronomy in the Ancient World"), (1974), p. 177.
20. G.S. Hawkins, "Astro-Archaeology," appendix to his Beyond Stonehenge (New York, 1973), p. 289.
22. Ibid. (main text), p. 250.
23. M.E. Bailey, et al., "Indicated Declinations at Callenish," in the Journal for the History of Astronomy, Vol. 8 (1977), p. 116.
24. Ibid .
25. E. Hadingham, Circles and Standing Stones (New York, 1975), p. 107.
26. E.W. MacKie (see note #19), p. 177.
27. Idem, Science and Society in Prehistoric Britain (London, 1977), p. 78.
28. A. Thom, "The Solar Observatories of Megalithic Man," in the Journal of the British Astronomical Association, Vol. 64 (Oct. 1954), p. 403.
29. Idem (see note #5), p. 96.
30. Ibid., p. 97.
31. Ibid., p. 142.
32. Idem, "Megalithic Astronomy: Indications in Standing Stones," in Vistas in Astronomy, Vol. 7, 1 (1965), p. 17.
33. Idem (see note #5), p. 97.
34. Ibid., p. 96.
35. E W. MacKie (see note #1), pp. 8-9.
36. Ibid., p. 8.
38. C. Ruggles, "Megalithic Observatories: A Critique," in the New Scientist (Sept. 16, 1976), p. 579.
39. H.E. Suess, "U.S. Geological Survey Radiocarbon Dates I," in Science, Vol. 120 (Sept. 24, 1954), pp. 471, 472; M. Rubin and H.E. Suess, "U.S. Geological Survey Radiocarbon Dates II," in Science, Vol. 121 (Apr. 8, 1955), pp. 481, 486.
40. C. Ruggles, op. cit., p. 579.
41. E.W. MacKie (see note #19), p. 177.
43. Ibid .; Idem (see note #1), p. 9.
44. Idem (see note #19), p. 177.
45. Idem (see note #1), p. 8.
46. Ibid., p. 9.
47. This for instance, is exemplified in his book, The Megalithic Builders (Oxford, 1977) pp. 101-102, where he presents Ballochroy as a genuine site without a single mention of his former objections.
48. A. Thom (see note #28), p. 403.
49. Idem (see note #32), p. 17.
50. Idem (see note #5), p. 152.
51. Idem (see note #15), p. 37.
52. T. McCreery to D. Cardona, private communique, Aug. 8, 1978.
NOTE: The author wishes to thank Professor Lynn E. Rose and Raymond C. Vaughan as well as Dr. C.J. Ransom and Thomas McCreery for their invaluable aid in the preparation of this paper and the additional material they presented me with.