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KRONOS Vol V, No. 1
BALLOCHROY, KINTRAW, AND MACKIE
To the Editor of KRONOS :
I have read with interest Mr. Cardona's two articles on the standing stone sites at Ballochroy and Kintraw in Scotland [KRONOS IV:3, pp. 23-55] and am impelled to write to you because of various inaccuracies and misconceptions which they contain.
The major misconception of course is that my original article in Pensée was written to prove or disprove any particular hypothesis. The second paragraph stated: "It is important that everyone – catastrophists, uniformitarians and 'don't knows' alike – understands the purpose of this article. It is to review the evidence as impartially as possible, and to try to decide whether this can be explained only on uniformitarian assumptions, or whether it can also fit a catastrophic theory but less well, or whether it in fact fits such a theory better." Mr. Cardona evidently believes that everyone who is not a committed supporter is an enemy.
It is important to get certain things straight about the sites themselves. The fact that the midwinter and midsummer sunsets are separated by 90° of azimuth, commented on several times by Cardona, is entirely irrelevant; the angle is simply a function of latitude (with slight extra differences being caused by the altitude of the horizon), being greater the farther one is from the equator. As far as I know no-one has previously mentioned this point as being important, not surprisingly perhaps as it is the alignments directed towards these solstitial rising and setting points by standing stones, and not the exact place of these points on the horizon, that is the evidence with which we are concerned.
Mr. Cardona seems sometimes to lose himself in arguments over details like this and entirely overlooks the fundamentally important features of Ballochroy and Kintraw. This is that both sites have very long alignments – 18 miles for the former and nearly 29 miles for the latter – which are essential if the exact day of the solstice was detected in prehistoric times. Because of the very small change in the solar declination at the time of the solstices the mountain peak against which the edge of the Sun sets has to be many miles away; only then will the edge of the disc reappear at the right slope (at midsummer) on only one day in the year and thus permit the length of the year to be worked out.
Both these standing stone sites were once suitable for this purpose and both moreover have numerically identical declinations (±23° 54') for the centre of the disc. The right end of Cara Island as seen from Ballochroy also has this declination for the Sun's centre. Moreover, as I explained in 1974, the mountain slopes indicated by the stones do not themselves have such identical declinations; Kintraw-to-Jura and Ballochroy-to-Cara Island mark declinations of – 23° 38' and Ballochroy-to-Jura marks +24° 10'. These points only become the same when one assumes that what is being measured is the centre of the solar disc with its upper edge against these marks. This also suggests strongly that, at the time the sites were set up, the disc had the same apparent diameter as it does now. Can this really be dismissed as chance, especially when there are many more indicated declinations of ±23° 54' for the centre of the disc at other standing stone sites?
That Mr. Cardona does not understand the principles of the long megalithic alignments is shown by his quoting of Hawkins' words, that distant hills become "redundant". On the contrary they are absolutely essential to the theory of megalithic observatories since it is they, when pointed at by one or more stones, that determine the declination of a celestial body rising or setting on the horizon. Understanding this puts into perspective, for example, the comments about Thom's identifications of the backsight stone at Ballochroy which points to Corra Bheinn. There may well have been a slip but stone S2 is the one concerned, as anyone can verify by visiting the site. Stone S1 is only 4 ft. away from it and standing there instead of at S2 would alter the declination of the mountain slope on Jura by about 10'. But in fact there is, as stated, no ambiguity at the stones at all.
Some of the comments on Kintraw show also a failure to distinguish important from trivial evidence. Here is a single tall stone in a flat field, the only level ground in the vicinity, and certainly the only such within sight of the mountains of Jura, the only distant peaks to be seen from this point. The great V-shaped notch between Beinn Shiantaidh and Beinn an Oir is again in exactly the right spot for marking a midwinter solstice when the Earth's axis was tilted at 23° 54' from the vertical and is far enough away (nearly 29 miles) for a really accurate pinpointing of midwinter's day to have been possible. The hill platform was looked for at the place it was because the interpretation of the stone as a solstice marker required it to be there; this is called "testing an hypothesis" in science.
It seems to me that it is a misrepresentation to seize on the phrase "however tentative" in the introduction to the specialist report on the construction of the hill platform at Kintraw and to imply that it means that the supporting evidence (from the Sheep Hill fort) for the idea that it was man made was itself tentative. The soil scientist's own words make this clear: "the available evidence supports the hypothesis that the Kintraw pavement was man-made." Mr. Cardona would have done better to concentrate on the real deficiency of the platform's evidence, which is the lack of any independent clue as to its age.
The responsibility for a major blunder is apparently shared by Dr. Ransom. Both Cardona and he imply that the Kintraw platform cannot be proved to be artificial because I carried out no check on other parts of the natural terrace on the hillside to see whether a similar stone layer was widespread. If both these gentlemen had read my article in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society(1) properly they would know that that was exactly what I did do. Excavations were carried out at a very similar boulder about 50m upstream, and in an astronomically meaningless position, and no stone layer was found. There is scarcely need to continue after that but, in the interests of putting straight the record, I will mention two more points. The attempt to show that there have been repeated changes in the major astronomical alignments claimed at Kintraw is not well founded. As stated, there is only one really important and clear line – that from the standing stone, or the hill platform, SW to the V-shaped notch on Jura 28 miles away. This gives a declination of – 23° 38' for the edge of the setting Sun's disc just showing in the notch, or – 23° 54' for the hidden centre of the Sun. This is exactly the same declination (apart from the sign) as the Sun's centre had when it slid down behind Corra Bheinn when seen from the Ballochroy stones at midsummer, and this can hardly be a coincidence. It is true that, before the hill platform with its boulder notch was found in 1970, there was a little uncertainty about exactly where the viewing point (backsight) was. However, because of the great distance of the foresight notch, a lateral difference of a few feet in the position of the observer at the stone hardly changes the declination of the notch at all. Of course when viewed from the hill platform the standing stone indicates where to look fairly clearly; the lunar lines which have been suggested are much more speculative and are not clearly marked by prehistoric features. They can safely be ignored.
Mr. Cardona was certainly right about one point. Because of a combination of an exceptionally frosty and long-lasting winter in 1978-79, and heavy rain at the end of it, the Kintraw stone did fall on March 3rd. It was re-erected on May 18th after excavations had been carried out into the socket. I saw these on May 17th and the impression of the stone's butt in the subsoil was clearly visible. It was thus possible to define the original position of the stone before it began to lean over to the right (as seen from the platform); it then pointed more accurately at the V-shaped notch on Jura. This disposes, in part at least, of another of Mr. Cardona's doubts.
It really will not do to dismiss the climatic evidence so lightly. There is a mass of literature on this subject and scores of botanists, climatologists, geologists and archaeologists have worked on post-glacial climatic problems for many decades. I suggest Mr. Cardona starts by reading Professor Lamb's paper in the volume of the Phil. Trans. Roy. So. Lond for 1974 which published the papers given at the conference, organised jointly in 1972 by the Royal Society and the British Academy, the theme of which was "Astronomy in the Ancient World".(1) The evidence indicates fairly clearly that there was a warmer and drier spell of climate in NW Europe in the 3rd and the early 2nd millennia B. C., the period of the standing stone sites. Moreover there are now available a number of radiocarbon dates for geological features formed at the time of the final retreat of the ice sheets in N Europe and these all fall in or very close to the last half of the 9th millennium B. C. (in radiocarbon years) and not around 3500 years ago.
I can only repeat the conclusions I came to several years ago. The available evidence strongly supports the astronomical interpretation of the Kintraw site as a midwinter solstice observing instrument of great potential accuracy. When the Sun had that declination ( – 23° 54') is another matter about which the site itself tells us nothing since it has not been independently dated.
Postscript: When coming to conclusions about controversial problems it is sometimes useful to keep in mind the difference between inductive and deductive thinking. The former of course involves working from the detailed evidence to the drawing of general conclusions and the latter is the reverse process – explaining specific evidence with the aid of general theories. It is all too easy, when one has decided that a general explanation is right, to use only the deductive method and to assume that any evidence which is not easily explicable in this way must somehow be wrong. Both supporters and opponents of a controversial theory can fall into this error.
Euan W. MacKie
1. E. W. MacKie (1974), "Archaeological Tests on Supposed Prehistorical Astronomical Sites in Scotland," Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. Lond. A. 276, pp. 169-94.
* * *
To the Editor of KRONOS:
In his paper, "The Stones of Ballochroy" (KRONOS Vol. IV, No. 3, pp. 23ff.), your contributor Dwardu Cardona refers to "two published attempts to disprove Velikovsky" by Dr. Euan MacKie, giving as one of these the article "Megalithic Astronomy" published in Vol. I, No. 2 of the SIS Review (the other being his paper in Pensée IVR X). This makes somewhat disturbing reading to the editors of a magazine dedicated to a fair assessment of Dr. Velikovsky's work, and we hope we may be granted space to state that the article referred to was not offered to us as an "attempt to disprove Velikovsky", nor was it accepted or published as such; and its author has re-affirmed to the Editor that this was not his intention. Its purpose, after all, is stated in the opening paragraph as being that of providing "valuable evidence which must be considered in relation to theories of recent catastrophism". In this sense, it was seen as a summary of the Pensée paper for the benefit of our readers (regrettably a much abbreviated one owing to the limited space then available in SIS Review).
The aim of that earlier paper is explained at greater length: –
It is clear from Cardona's detailed treatment of the megaliths that he has spent considerable time on a study of the sites examined by MacKie and others; and one wonders whether in the process his contact with MacKie's writings has lost some of its immediacy. (In this connection, we note that on p. 27 he acknowledges his gratitude to Dr. MacKie for having drawn his attention to an earlier paper which, however, was already clearly referenced in context in both the Pensée and the SISR paper.) In fact, the very first page of his [Cardona's] article contains two diametric misunderstandings of MacKie's position:
But this is simply not so. MacKie is simply reporting the findings: the mute evidence cannot speak as Cardona says it is claimed to do, and MacKie himself admits it. The alignments proposed at these sites, to be sure, succeed only if the size of the Sun (i.e. the Earth's distance from it) and the position of the terrestrial axis match those prescribed by uniformitarian considerations (a patent example of circular logic), but: –
Presumably the same could be said of the Earth's orbit.
Cardona also seems to have lost touch, in the course of his extensive researches, with MacKie's overall position. His other page-one error lies in his claim that MacKie "finds Velikovsky's theory wanting" – a statement which he re-asserts on page 35: – after quoting MacKie's own recognition of the difficulties provided for the uniformitarian interpretation by the anomalous alignment from Ballochroy to Beinn a Chaolais (MacKie also notes that on Thom's histogram of declinations, the linchpin of the latter's work, this alignment "falls uneasily between two peaks") and his remark that "it could provide an important hint that there may be other long solar sites which do not fit the uniformitarian theory", he maintains that MacKie "continued to opt in favor of a uniformitarian interpretation" (p. 35).
Cardona has missed two clues here. First, if MacKie was embarked on an "attempt to disprove Velikovsky", why mention such problem data at all, without a ready answer? (In his puzzlement at MacKie's omission of the Cara Island sight line, which "would have been much to MacKie's advantage" – if, that is, MacKie's aim were to refute Velikovsky – (p. 27), Cardona should have got a glimmering of the fault in his logic.) Secondly, MacKie himself returns to the Ballochroy-Beinn a Chaolais line in his summing up:
A positive search for alignments which (assuming that, with MacKie, we accept the validity of these alignments as a working hypothesis) would refute uniformitarianism: it is difficult to imagine what purpose could be seen in such a course of action by anyone blindly committed to that cause, as Cardona supposes MacKie to be. Actually, as the attentive reader of the papers Dr. MacKie has published in Velikovskian journals will be aware, he is at pains to stress the inconclusive nature of the evidence for both sides. A major – but not conclusive – point in favour of catastrophism, for instance, is the sudden appearance of the sites, and this is considered at length in the Pensée paper (pp. 14-15). (As a paper in SISR III:4 shows, this appears to be part of a widespread, largely synchronous cultural phenomenon, covering Europe and stretching to Egypt and the Indus. The implications of this for catastrophism cannot be overlooked.) And in concluding, he [MacKie] opts not for uniformitarianism but for a watching brief:
It is unfortunate that a number of North American writers have apparently fallen prey to a perception of Dr. MacKie's non-commitment to either uniformitarianism or catastrophism as a direct opposition to Velikovsky's hypotheses, and of his published work as expressions of this. In this, it seems to us, they are gravely in error. In fact, MacKie's papers in Pensée and SISR, in drawing attention to a fascinating area of study with far-reaching implications for Velikovskian research, did no more than approach the evidence on the basis of unprejudiced scholarly enquiry – a principle which this journal takes as its tenet, and one for which Dr. MacKie is particularly fitted.
Malcolm Lowery, Editor/SIS Review
Dwardu Cardona Replies:
The fact that MacKie drew my attention to the paper he published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society does not mean that I was previously unaware of it. I state this to set the record straight. But to more important matters.
It might very well be that MacKie's SISR article – "Megalithic Astronomy" was neither offered nor accepted for publication as an attempt to disprove Velikovsky. But, despite the author's original statement that he was not engaged in an attempt to disprove any view and his more recent reaffirmation that this was not his intention, the opinions he stated, both there and elsewhere, sadly betray him.
That MacKie finds Velikovsky's theory wanting is evidenced by his suggestion that the former's thesis could be broadly correct while "modification of it in detail is allowable".(1) Why MacKie, and his supporters, should object to my saying so remains a mystery.
In the SISR article, MacKie stated that the results of megalithic astronomy are "held to be a formidable argument against any disruption of the Earth's axis having occurred since 2000 B. C."(2)
Granted, MacKie did qualify this by stating that "the standing stones of course cannot say that this did or did not happen: they only indicate past declinations of celestial bodies the identities of which we have to infer from other evidence".(3) But since MacKie feels confident in having, with Alexander Thom, correctly identified the celestial bodies concerned – since he feels confident that the standing stones in question do point at the asserted declinations of said celestial bodies – since he feels confident that, through retrocalculation, the dates suggested by archaeology for these monuments have now been verified he must also feel confident that Velikovsky was in error when he suggested, as he continued to do until his death, that the Earth's axis has been disrupted, and more than once, since 2000 B. C.
Now it has been pointed out by my critics that the above mentioned article is to be considered a summary of MacKie's earlier Pensée paper – "Megalithic Astronomy and Catastrophism". It is to that earlier paper, therefore, that we must look to if we wish to evaluate MacKie's position properly. (Later, we shall also look elsewhere.)
The affirmations presented in MacKie's Pensée paper are more clear-cut. There MacKie stated that the results from Ballochroy and Kintraw, together with several other equinoctial alignments, support the inference that "the geographical poles of the Earth were in exactly their present positions when the stones were set up and are therefore unlikely to have moved since".(4) He also stated that "we can be reasonably sure that the Sun was at about the same distance from Earth as it is now when the stones were set up".(5) MacKie concluded that "whatever the conditions were in the 3rd millennium B. C., by the end of that millennium the Earth and Sun were in approximately their present relative positions.(6). . . We are further forced to conclude from the evidence reviewed here that during the early part at least of the Middle Kingdom the Earth's orbit was similar in size to its present one and that our planet's axis – though it could have been reversed – was most probably aligned in a similar direction to the present one in relation to the celestial sphere."(7)
Whether intended as such or not, can my critics honestly say that the above statements and conclusions do not constitute an attempted refutation of Velikovsky's thesis?
It is all very well for James and Lowery to remind us of MacKie's statement that "the solstice sites . . . can only indicate the angle of tilt of the Earth's axis at the time they were set up".(8) And that "if the theory of uniformity is to be regarded as non-proven, they [the sites] cannot by themselves be dated in this way . . ."(9) But the joint authors of the criticizing letter should not have omitted from the middle of their selected quote, MacKie's additional words which plainly read: "However, it must be admitted that the general data for the standing stones deducted from the archaeological and C-14 evidence . . . fits very well the date, computed mathematically on uniformitarian assumptions. ..."(10)
True, MacKie informed us that the megalithic alignments do not rule out the possibility that the prehistoric solstice might have shifted inwards to a position within its modern one and then out again to a point from which it could have evolved to its present location. This indicates that MacKie did consider the possibility of intervening catastrophes. But, toward the close of the same paper, he also indicated that, personally, he favors the uniformitarian date of 1800 B. C. without any following disorders. This is evidenced by the question he raised there: "Could it be that the pair of great catastrophes deduced [by Velikovsky] to have happened in the 15th century B. C. in fact happened earlier, at the end of the Old Kingdom in Egypt?"(11) To MacKie this would be a more acceptable solution for then he could say, as indeed he did, that the "vast array of detailed hard evidence" he reviewed would "fall neatly into place".(12)
To be fair, MacKie did point out some alignments which do not fit the uniformitarian theory. He did state that there is "a distinct possibility" that other uninvestigated alignments might fit the catastrophic theory better. He also admitted to having searched for such alignments. In fact, he even pointed out that one of the Ballochroy lines might very well be such a case.(13) A writer's position, however, has to be judged by the totality of his published work where later opinions and conclusions, be they at variance with earlier ones or not, are generally accepted as his final word. So that, despite the above, my statement that MacKie "continued to opt in favor of a uniformitarian interpretation" still holds. In my paper, I foot-noted that statement. My note referenced MacKie's later work, The Megalith Builders. In that work, written for laymen and experts alike, MacKie suppressed those alignments which do not fit the uniformitarian theory and, as stated in my note, he presented Ballochroy "as a genuine site without a single mention of his former objections".(14) Besides the fact that this is hardly scholarly, it allows MacKie's uniformitarian tendencies to show through. In fact, The Megalith Builders is an opus which is totally devoted to the uniformitarian school of thought.
Impartiality demands that all of the truth be told and that it be told all of the time. That MacKie does not always adhere to this tenet was proven when he favorably reviewed the Cornell University book, Scientists Confront Velikovsky, without so much as drawing his readers' attention to the KRONOS Press rebuttal, Velikovsky and Establishment Science.*
It is evident, therefore, that stated intentions mean nothing. History is full of such. It is the result that is of consequence and concern. And while my critics may wag their fingers at me, allow me to remind one of them of the very words he once quoted me in friendliness when, on an earlier occasion, our differences had somewhat surfaced in private: "Effect is never necessarily the result of intention."(18)
Let me not be misunderstood. That Velikovsky's theory, as MacKie suggested, might have to be modified is not the issue here. As it happens, I too am of the same opinion. But if MacKie expects it to be modified on the basis of megalithic astronomy, he will first have to prove that this science is based on solid foundations. In the two articles which are here being defended, I have endeavored to show that such is not the case. In their joint letter, James and Lowery had nothing to say concerning this subject. That task was left to MacKie himself. The second part of this reply is therefore devoted to that topic.
MacKie criticizes me for giving too much prominence to the 90° separation between the midwinter and midsummer sunsets as viewed from Ballochroy. I agree; I should have swept that irrelevancy aside with a single stroke of the pen.
He states that, as far as he knows, no one had previously mentioned this fact as being important. Gerald Hawkins, however, did mention it,(19) although it is true, he did not stress it. Personally, I had two other authorities in mind: Alexander Thom and Euan MacKie himself. I quote below the latter's own words:
[*!* Image] Plan of Ballochroy (After Thom)
INSERT KV3_89.TIF HERE
I reproduce again the plan of the Ballochroy site. The reader will at once realize that, since the stones are oriented in a 90° configuration, the two alignments can only be observed "from the same spot" because the two sunsets are separated by 90°. So who's making the fuss?
In my article, however, it is Ballochroy's locality that I stressed.(21) As mentioned there, this position would have been very significant had the stones really "pointed" to the actual moments of sunset. Unfortunately, they do not.
It is true that the right end of Cara has a declination of 23° 54' for the centre of the Sun's disc. The line of the stones, however, does not indicate Cara. It indicates the open sea beyond it. Moreover, the stones themselves actually hide Cara entirely from view.
That various other slopes match the same declination is purely incidental. The mountains, after all, were not raised by the megalith builders. And that various standing stones have been erected within sight of these mountains is just as fortuitous. In a country like Scotland, one would almost be hard put to select an open space on which to erect a monument out of view of the highlands. Even so, out of the 600-odd megalithic sites that Thom himself has surveyed, how many of them are really within sight of a mountain, or valley, or notch with a declination of ±23° 54' ?
By accusing me of misunderstanding the principles of the long alignments simply because I quoted Hawkins' words that distant hills become redundant, MacKie is also accusing Hawkins of the same thing. I shall not, however, appeal to authority especially since, in other matters, I disagree with Hawkins also. Granted that it is the distant hills that determine the declination of a celestial body (and did I, anywhere, say otherwise?), what of those distant hills which are just as definitely "pointed at by one or more stones" but which have no astronomically meaningful declination – which, incidentally, is the case at Ballochroy?
And as far as stones S1 and S2 are concerned, Thom's inconsistency is definitely not due to a slip. As indicated in my article, and I hate to have to repeat it, from 1954 to 1967, Thom did select S2 as indicating Corra Beinn. But from 1967 onward he focused his attention on S1. This is so true that, as late as 1978, one of Thom's staunchest supporters, P. Lancaster Brown, twice repeated in his work the assertion that, according to Thom, the midsummer Sun set along the slope of Corra Beinn as seen from S1.(22) That S2 should be the stone concerned was precisely my point. As stated in my article, a change of mind is permissible but not in this case when it is undoubtedly S2 that indicates the direction to Corra Beinn.
But enough of Ballochroy and on to Kintraw. Here I am reprimanded for failing to distinguish important from trivial evidence. If I may ask, trivial to whom?
MacKie supplies me with the perfect example. The lunar lines he sweeps aside as being speculative and not clearly marked. They are, therefore, trivial. According to him, they can safely be ignored. But according to Thom, the lunar line at Kintraw is a very important one.(23) For that reason, I did not choose to ignore it. It is, after all, another valuable piece of evidence against Thom's methodology. Or is MacKie laboring under the misapprehension that he is the sole target of my criticism? My quarrel, let it be made clear, is with the uniformitarian nature of megalithic astronomy – and, therefore, with all of its supporters.
Then there is the "major blunder" which I am made to "share" with Dr. Ransom. At least I'm in good company. But where did I state that MacKie did not dig anywhere else on the hillside? I merely pointed out that MacKie did not continue to dig beyond the 6 meters east of the all-important boulder notch.(24) His reminder that he did dig a trench about 50 meters upstream, i.e. in the same direction, is neither here nor there for it still leaves us with 50 meters of unexcavated terrain. Nor was Dr. Ransom in error when he stated that MacKie "dug where he wanted to find something, but apparently nowhere else," for the "nothing" that MacKie found 50 meters upstream was precisely the "something" he wanted to find. In other words, by limiting the stone layer to the 6 meters or so required for sideways movement which in turn was needed in order to pinpoint the midwinter sunset, MacKie tried to show that there was a reason for its existence. But the question remains: Does the stone layer continue beyond that limiting 6 meters? Actually, it really does not matter whether it does or not for what is really at issue here is the fact that, having satisfied his theory, MacKie did not see fit to dig between that immediate point and the trench 50 meters upstream.
According to MacKie, I would have done better to concentrate on the "platform's" real deficiency which he considers to be the lack of independent clues concerning its age. But that is hardly the "platform's" only shortcomings. Earlier, he himself had stressed the absence of what he called "the normal archaeological signs of human activity".(25) At Duntreath, a so-called observation site which even MacKie considers to be of little import, he also dug.(26) There he did discover such signs. At Kintraw, which Thom considers to be one of the two most important solstitial sites, MacKie found none. Strange, though while he calls this absence a handicap to the interpretation of the stone layer as an artificial platform, this handicap was also suppressed in his later work, thus giving the impression that no obstacle hinders the diagnosis.
The "platform's" real deficiency, however, lies with the petrofabric analysis that was conducted on the stone layer. J. Edwin Wood, one of MacKie's supporters, described this layer as "a cobbled surface".(27) This is verbal enhancement; it misleads, and therefore conditions, the reader through suggestive description – a ploy which, as pointed out in my article, MacKie himself is not exactly innocent of.* The stones were not only not cobbles, they were described by their excavator as angular.(29) In fact, they looked so much like a natural formation that the above mentioned analysis was thought necessary. But, as Thomas McCreery has now shown,(30) the method used by Bibby was not exactly satisfactory from a scientific point of view and, in fact, no weight can be attached to this analysis. Thus the artificiality of the "platform" turns out to be nothing but a myth.
I guess, as MacKie himself put it, I need scarcely continue after this but since he touched upon a few other points I might as well comment on them.
The attempt to show that there have been repeated changes in the claimed astronomical alignments at Kintraw is not only well-founded but well-illustrated in my article. What MacKie claims to be the "only one really important and clear line" just happens to be the last one in a series of previous attempts some of them downright blunders. As I stressed in my article, the midwinter solar flash in the col of Beinn Shiantaidh is the only factor which cannot be discounted. But may I remind MacKie, as I think I have already done, that it was not the megalith builders who fashioned this col. That there is no line running to it through the 12-foot high menhir, I have already shown. That, before it began to lean, this menhir "pointed more accurately" to the col, I already knew.(31) "More accurately," however, is not accurate enough. Even as the menhir stands corrected today, it still indicates a point to the northwest of the col. Meanwhile, with the downfall of the petrofabric analysis, the line from the boulder notch on the so-called platform carries little, if any, weight.
This brings me to the last point in MacKie's letter. The climatic problem. Here I plead guilty – but only in dismissing the evidence too lightly. Actually, the two papers being defended here are part of a larger work dealing with the displacement of the world's quarters. To have presented the climatic evidence in full would have incurred the inclusion of a much longer third paper. Still, while it is my hope that that paper will some day be published in the pages of KRONOS, I should have given my argument more substance. In the meantime, McCreery has delved into the subject in some detail.(32) And while McCreery draws on the same H. H. Lamb whom MacKie wishes to present as a witness in his defence, he can now compare the evidence and draw his own conclusions.
REFERENCES1. E. W. MacKie, "Megalithic Astronomy and Catastrophism," in Pensée IVR X (Winter 1974-75 p. 18.
2. Idem, "Megalithic Astronomy," in the Society for Interdisciplinary Studies Review, Vol. I, No. 2 (Spring 1976), p. 3.
4. See note No. 1, p. 15.
7. Ibid, p. 17.
11. Ibid, p. 18.
13. Ibid, pp. 17, 18.
14. D. Cardona, "The Stones of Ballochroy," in KRONOS, Vol. IV, No. 3 (Spring 1979), pp. 35, 37, Note No. 47.
15. E. W. MacKie, "A Heretic in His Time?" in New Scientist, September 14, 1978, p. 780.
16. I. Velikovsky, "The Ten Points of Sagan"; L. M. Greenberg, "Sagan's Folly"; R. E. Juergens, "Sagan's Ten Plagues"; C. J. Ransom, "Sagan's Appendices: A Quick Appendectomy"; in Velikovsky and Establishment Science (Glassboro,1977).
17. See note No. 15.
18. R. M. Lowery to D. Cardona, May 21, 1978, private communique.
19. G. S. Hawkins, Beyond Stonehenge (New York, 1973), p. 250.
20. E. W. MacKie, "Archaeological Tests on Supposed Prehistoric Astronomical Sites in Scotland," in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 276 (1974), p. 177.
21. D. Cardona, op. cit., p. 25.
22. P. Lancaster Brown, Megaliths, Myths and Men (New York, 1976), p. 203.
23. A . Thom, Megalithic Lunar Observatories (Oxford, 1971-73), pp. 38, 39.
24. D. Cardona, "The Cairns of Kintraw," in KRONOS, Vol. IV, No. 3 (Spring 1979), p. 51.
25. See note No. 20, p. 183.
26. Ibid, p. 187.
27. J. Edwin Wood, Sun, Moon and Standing Stones (Oxford, 1978), pp. 17, 89.
28. E. W. MacKie, The Megalith Builders (Oxford, 1977), p. 102.
29. See note No. 20, p. 181.
30. T. McCreery, "The Kintraw Stone Platform," elsewhere in this issue.
31. D. Cardona, op. cit., p. 49.
32. T. McCreery, "Megalithic Lunar Observatories: A Critique," in KRONOS, Vol. V,. No. 2, pp. 15-18.
Thomas McCreery Responds:
May I take up a few of the points offered by Dr. MacKie in his reply to Dwardu Cardona's articles on Ballochroy and Kintraw?
I wish to preface my thoughts on these particular sites by making the general and obvious comment that in any discussion of the significance of prehistoric structures, it is axiomatic that we must be suspicious of imposing our twentieth century outlook onto the creations of an aboriginal mind. We should not interpret these monuments exclusively in scientific or practical terms and ignore the probability that they served a number of diverse purposes simultaneously. As Atkinson noted elsewhere:
Richmond also noted that:
Proponents of the hypotheses that Neolithic man constructed astronomical observatories must, in order to vindicate their theses, show conclusive proof that this was the purpose behind the construction of these megalithic monuments. The onus of proof rests squarely on their shoulders; and such proof should not, indeed cannot, depend on subjective judgement.
One does not dispute that the technique advanced by Professor Thom, and claimed by him to have been used at Ballochroy and Kintraw, of using a backsight directed onto a distant foresight, could theoretically be used for accurate determination of the solstices. The question remains whether Neolithic man utilised such a technique. No independent evidence has been offered to support the hypotheses that Neolithic man had the organization, the ingenuity, and the will to undertake such a project. Ironically, the only evidence of a scientifically motivated community is Thom's contentions that they employed esoteric mathematics for the layout of stone circles and had sophisticated astronomical knowledge not improved upon for three thousand years.
This fundamental dichotomy, between Thom's claims and orthodoxy, has been termed the "Thomist Paradox". Conventional archaeology describes prehistoric Scotland as a land having a low density of population, combined with a harsh debilitating climate. These factors mitigate severely against the rise of a select caste which Thom has conjured into being. Again Atkinson comments with regard to this society:
Environmental and climatic conditions would also prejudice any attempt at accurate work on the horizon, given that Neolithic man was interested (which is dubious). The normal habitat was of heavy forest cover:
Lamb notes that between 5000 and 2000 B. C. "forest grew much nearer to the open Atlantic coast than at any time since and also in parts of the Hebrides and northern isles,"(5) conditions distinctly not propitious for horizon work.
I must disagree with Dr. MacKie on the climate in Neolithic times. He is correct in that the last great ice sheets retreated in northern Europe well before the megalithic era, but the climatic conditions at that time were unfavourable. It may have been slightly warmer (about 1-2° C), but it was certainly wet. I have shown this in my "Megalithic Lunar Observatories – A Critique"; and corroboration can be found in the statement: "There were marked changes in Europe from the time of the climatic optimum c. 4000 B. C., and from about 2500 to 1500 B. C. many Megalithic monuments were being rapidly smothered by peat because of increased rainfall."(6) Let us, however, ignore the above difficulties and examine Ballochroy and Kintraw in the light of Thom's statements that they are the most important solar observatories. We would expect that they would be set out in such a manner that there should be no doubts as to their astronomical function.
At Ballochroy, the most obvious line is that along the three large stones at 226° azimuth and which, as Thom states, draw the observer's attention.
As Cardona has shown, this line is untenable for a number of reasons.
(a) The kist was most probably covered by a cairn, "and if it is older than the standing stones – which is most probable in view of the massiveness of its construction – then it would have completely blocked the view of the island".(8)
(b) Even if the kist/cairn did not exist, it would have been impossible to see Cara, if one stood along the line of the stones, due to their great height. Standing to one side of the stones and attempting to extrapolate would lead to gross inaccuracy. For a more extended discussion, refer to Cooke, et al.(9)
(c) The line of the stones, as far as one can judge, indicates not Cara but the open sea. "If one again looks at the alignment objectively one notices that the edges of the stones indicate a point some way east of the eastern end of the island; the chosen western end is not marked precisely. In addition, the small hump or peak on the eastern end is a much more conspicuous foresight marker than the featureless western end."(10)
(Thom's attitude to this line has varied over the years. In 1954 he considered that the line did not differentiate between three knolls at Cara(11); by 1971 he considered that the line distinctly showed the north west end.)(12)
The most obvious line at Ballochroy is untenable and attention diverts to the line between the face of the central stone and Ben Corra (or Corra Bheinn), nineteen miles away. There is an ambiguity about this line which distracts from its importance in that the line can either be taken to the top of Corra Bheinn (24° 13') or to its bottom slope (24° 10'). This is anomalous and even Dr. MacKie has noted that "it is not easy to understand why Corra Bheinn was selected as a foresight for the solstice . . . both Beinn Shiantaidh, immediately to the left, and Beinn a Chaolais at the southern end of the row of peaks have smooth concave right slopes . . . their declination would be unambiguous and precise".(13) The so-called importance of this line is reduced to triviality when it is noted that the most precise line at Ballochroy is from the face of the most extreme northeast stone to the right slope of Beinn a Chaolais and yields a declination of 20° 9'. It would seem from this that only those lines that appear to support his hypotheses are noted by Thom; awkward ones are ignored.
Far from being "the most important solar observatory," Ballochroy, considered objectively, seemingly shows little astronomical significance. The most obvious alignment is meaningless, and we are left looking along the smooth faces of two of the stones towards the paps of Jura. These provide three possible lines if, and only if, we accept the dubious proposition that this was the purpose of the stones. I may add, and my view is shared by others (see Cooke, et al.), that I am particularly unhappy about lines taken along the flat faces of menhirs. Slight movements of the stones – and who is to say that there have been no geological disturbances over the last four thousand years in South Argyllshire – could alter significantly the declinations of lines taken from the stones.
The situation is somewhat simpler at Kintraw. Thom claims one line, that along the 12 ft. menhir directed towards the col between Beinn Shiantaidh and Beinn a Chaolais. There are, however, several photographs and scale drawings of the horizon profile as seen from the "platform" above the menhir and, even when taking the lean of the menhir into account, it does seem that the right hand slope of Beinn an Oir is indicated rather than the col.(14)
I must take issue with Dr. MacKie over the term "specialist report" as applied to Mr. J. S. Bibby's petrofabric analysis of the stone layer. The method used by him was distinctly not in accord with normal geological practice, lacking rigour and being inaccurate.(15) As I have shown elsewhere, (16) the comparison of contours from such fundamentally diverse geological conditions as Broadlaw and Kintraw is illogical and unscientific.
There are other objections. In practice, for instance, it would have been virtually impossible for the Neolithic priesthood, even if they existed, to find the exact day of the solstice using Thom's method. Even if the weather had been good for viewing in the megalithic era, daily difference in refraction, due to changes in temperature and atmospheric pressure, would have caused great changes in the observed declination than that due to the change at the solstice (about 0.2'). Thom, commenting in 1954, remarks:
But even small changes in refraction would render the technique untenable and Thom is indeed correct in stating that it would be "well nigh impossible" to detect the actual day of the solstice.
To conclude: if one accepts the Thomist hypotheses of a Late Neolithic/ Early Bronze age caste of astronomically motivated wise men, then sightlines can be found at virtually every megalithic site, for the Scottish horizons at present – with their innumerable notches and breaks – are conducive to such thought. However, if we reject, as we must, the imposition of our own image on ancient man – and take cognisance of the sociological, environmental, and climatic difficulties besetting the prehistoric inhabitants of Scotland – then one must expect overwhelming evidence to be provided by Thom of a race of "mute inglorious Newtons who somehow managed to command the labour and organisation necessary to construct stone circles or alignments".(18) Neither Ballochroy nor Kintraw show such evidence.
REFERENCES1. Nature (1977), 265, p. 11.
2. The Place of Astronomy in the Ancient World, (ed.) Hodson (London, 1974), p. 276.
3. Ibid, p. 126.
5. Ibid, p. 205.
6. P. L. Brown, Megaliths and Masterminds (London, 1979), p. 202.
7. A. Thom, Journal of the British Astronomical Association (1954), 64, 8, p. 403.
8. See note No. 2, p. 177.
9. Cooke, et al., "Indicated Declinations at the Callenish Megalithic Sites," Journal for the History of Astronomy (1977), 8, pp. 113-133. 10. See note No. 8. 11. See note No. 7.
12. A. Thom, Megalithic Lunar Observatories (Oxford, 1971), p. 37.
13. See note No. 8.
14. E. Hadingham, Circles and Standing Stones (London, 1975), p. 113.
15. Journal of Geology (1939),47, pp. 673-706; (1957), 65, pp. 98-105.
16. T. McCreery, "The Kintraw Stone Platform," in KRONOS, Vol. V, No. 3, pp. 71-79.
17. See note No. 7.
18. See note No. 2, p. 276.