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Open letter to science editors


"The ancient Stonehengers had true perils on their minds when they dragged huge monoliths from afar, when they watched that the sun should not continue to rise past the foreordained point on the horizon.  It is in vain to search the motive for erecting Stonehenge in awe before 'the perils' of lunar eclipse during the few weeks following Halloween."

On Decoding Hawkins' Stonehenge Decoded
Immanuel Velikovsky

In 1963 and 1964, a young and talented astronomer, Professor Gerald S. Hawkins, published two papers in the British magazine, Nature (October 26, 1963, and June 27, 1964).  The subject of the papers was developed by him in articles (Harper's, June, 1964; American Scientist, December, 1965; Physics Today, April, 1966); in a book (1965), Stonehenge Decoded; and in many lectures before scientific societies and the public.

In the 1963 article Hawkins claimed that Stonehenge, a stone monument on Salisbury plain in England, was erected for astronomical observations (a view going back to Lockyer at the turn of the century and to earlier writers) and that the purpose was to watch the sun rising on the summer solstices (also an often repeated view); but he claimed further that with certain four selected points as observational stations, the extent of the swing along the horizon between the rising and setting points of the moon in summer and winter can also be followed up. Also with some additional selected points, the movements of the sun could be aligned with great precision for the winter solstice as well.  Such a purpose is readily conceivable; the problem, then, is: if the ancient alignments are still valid, how could my reconstruction of past events of catastrophic nature with solsticial sunrising points repeatedly dislodged, be true?  Not a small share of the public interest in Hawkin's theory can be attributed to this predicament.

Before we examine 1. whether the alignments are true today and 2. whether they were the same in ancient times, I would like to present Hawkins' view on the motives that guided the ancients in erecting Stonehenge, a great monument that required very great efforts on the part of those who, as Hawkins says, "apparently did not know the wheel" (Stonehenge Decoded, p. 65) yet brought the huge monoliths from a great distance across plains on rollers and along rivers on rafts.

"They (the Stonehengers) had the means to confirm that the Sun was on course.  They certainly had reasons to be vitally concerned with the observations.  If the Sun ever failed to turn at the heelstone at midsummer and day after day rose further to the left, then intense heat and drought would surely follow.  Today we have absolute confidence in the regular movement of the Earth around the Sun" (Hawkins, American Scientist, [December, 19651, 395).

This concern of the ancient Stonehengers is, of course, hardly understandable if past experience had given no reasons for such apprehension.  This, however, Hawkins does not consider and thus he ascribes to the ancients, on the one hand, very advanced ideas like building an astronomical computer (his second article and thesis), and, on the other hand, an apparently unfounded fear that the sun might go out of control.

In his second paper in Nature (1964), titled "Stonehenge: A Neolithic Computer", Hawkins claimed that the Stonehengers dug out 56 holes in a circle (Aubrey holes from the name of their 17th century discoverer) around Stonehenge in order to predict lunar eclipses.  Hawkins wrote in the preface to his book: "In retrospect it is a conservative hypothesis for it allows the Stonehenger to be equal to, but not better than, me.  Many facts, for example the 56-year eclipse cycle, were not known to me and other astronomers, but were discovered (or rather rediscovered) from the decoding of Stonehenge."

A 56-year eclipse cycle was unknown to modern astronomers, but known to the Stonehengers and learned from them by Hawkins who, in order to find this secret of Stonehenge, used a modern computer.

How important was it for the neolithic (late Stone Age) dwellers of Salisbury plain to know in advance the times of lunar eclipses?  Their computer was not built to predict solar eclipses.

"I could visualize Stonehenge being an instrument which was useful for giving some warning of the danger of an eclipse" says Hawkins in American Scientist, and in his book he details this warning system: "Not more than half of those eclipses were visible from Stonehenge, but the good chance that the inevitable eclipse might have been visible from England would have made it well worth while for the Stonehenge priests to use winter moonrise over the heel stone as a danger signal.  Far better to call the people out for a false alarm—and then perhaps claim that skilled intercessions had averted the disaster—than to fail to call them out and have the eclipse come without warning!" (Stonehenge Decoded, pp. 13940).

The ancient computer could predict lunar eclipses only during one winter month, when "the full moon nearest the winter solstice rose over the heel stone." Thus, the priests of Stonehenge could not spread the alarm during the entire year—lunar eclipses may occur in any of the twelve months of the year; but in order not to compromise themselves they alarmed their congregation, even of lunar eclipses that would be visible only in the southern hemisphere, because their computer was geared for such performance: Close to the time of the winter solstice it was in working condition.  The Stonehengers, apprehensive of the danger of lunar eclipses, were unconcerned about solar eclipses because their 56-hole digit computer was attuned only to the 56 year cycle of lunar eclipses, which Hawkins refers to "as those most frightening things" (Stonehenge Decoded, p. 147).

According to Hawkins no other purpose of astronomical character will be discovered in Stonehenge since he has tried out every alignment: "I think there is little else in these areas that can be discovered at Stonehenge" (p. 147).

There are many more holes besides the Aubrey or X ring of 56 holes (closer to the sarsen monuments are 30 holes of a Y ring and 29 holes of Z ring and inside the ring of the monoliths there are 59 holes prepared for bluestones, from which those stones were removed) and many stones large and small, as well.  Hawkins subjected all possible alignments to a computer test to seek out their possible significance in observing celestial bodies.

"There are so many possible Stonehenge alignments—27,060 between 165 positions—that one could be found to point to practically anything in the sky, and, vice versa, there are so many objects in the sky—perhaps literally an infinite number—that hardly any line extended from earth could fail to hit at least one" (Stongehenge Decoded, p. 104).

With 27,060 alignments in a structure designed as an observatory it is surprising to read that "stars and planets yielded no detectable correlation" (Hawkins in Nature, October 26, '63).  There was "no significant matching with planets or with the bigger stars, Sirius, Canopus, Arcturus, Betelgeuse, Spica, Vega . . ." (Hawkins in Harper's, June, 1964).  Not one planet, and not a single prominent star qualified, despite so many chances.  The thought must occur that Stonehenge, if it was used for astronomical observations, must have been put together, let us say, originally, under a different celestial order.  I say "originally" because it will be shown that Stonehenge was repeatedly reordered.


Visiting Stonehenge in the summer of 1957, I, like other visitors, could not but be greatly impressed by the huge monoliths capped by lintels, all shaped by human hand: there is a circle of such rectangular stones, and inside the circle still larger stones capped to form trilithons.  The larger of these "sarsen" stones weigh up to 50 tons each, and all the "sarsens" were brought south a distance of 20 miles to Stonehenge.  Less spectacular features, not paid attention to by many a visitor, include a circular ditch with raised banks surrounding the area in which, in concentric rings, the already mentioned X, Y, and Z holes surround the sarsen monoliths.  Inside the ring of these monoliths, but outside the horseshoe-like formation of trilithons (originally five in number), there are 59 or 60 holes, some of them still occupied by "bluestones," five or so feet high and weighing four to six tons each; inside the horseshoe there is another horseshoe of bluestones.  Outside the circular ditch, but actually in an "avenue" formed by two parallel extensions of the ditch stands a roughly shaped (not trimmed by hand) stone with its apex leaning from the vertical—the so-called Heel stone.  It is not located centrally in the avenue, but closer to one of the side ditches.  Several holes found in the avenue suggest that at various times other stones the size of the Heel stone stood in them, or that the Heel stone itself was moved from one to another of them and finally to its present position in the avenue.  Between the Heel stone and the sarsen stones lies the so-called "Slaughter Stone."

It is generally believed that on the summer solstice (June 21) the sun, viewed from the central position through an aperture between two sarsen slabs, rises directly over the Heel stone; this belief also served as the initial assumption of Hawkins' theories.  However, the official guide book on Stonehenge, written by Professor of Archaeology R. J. C. Atkinson and published by the British Government, states:

"It is commonly believed that on 21st June, when today large crowds gather to see the dawn, an observer at the center of Stonehenge will see the sun rise immediately over the Heel Stone, and that it will cast a shadow of the top of the Heel Stone on the Altar Stone.  Neither of these widely held beliefs is correct.  Today the midsummer sun rises appreciably to the left of the Heel Stone, and when Stonehenge was built it rose even further to the left; it will not rise over the Heel Stone for more than a thousand years." Atkinson is the recognized authority on Stonehenge.

When Hawkins published his theory, Atkinson came out with an annihilating criticism (Nature, 210, 1302, 1966; The New York Review of Books, June 23, 1966), and developed it in greater detail under the title "Moonshine on Stonehenge" in the September, 1966, issue of Antiquity, a scholarly magazine published in England.

Atkinson accused Hawkins of being very inexact with figures and measurements.  Instead of making measurements on the spot, Hawkins used two different maps, one of them by Atkinson, which, as the latter stressed, was never made for such a purpose, being intended only to show the approximate positions of the stones and holes, "wholly inappropriate as a basis for accurate measurement."  The other map comes from "a now-obsolete Ministry of Works plan from earlier editions of the official guide.  Further, Atkinson stresses that even then Hawkins permits himself an inadmissible tolerance of two degrees of arc in accepting non-alignment as perfect alignment.  He does this "in spite of the fact that 2° is equivalent to about four diameters of the sun or moon" whereas with a pair of sticks the rising or setting of the Sun can be fixed within "repeatable limits of 5 minutes of arc" or 24 times more accurately.  "Translated into practical terms, it means, for instance, that the Heel Stone could be moved 12 feet to the northeast without affecting Hawkin's claim."

Hawkins says, "we have no record of what the ancients took to be the instant of sunrise.  Was it the first gleam or the moment when the whole disk stands on the horizon?" (Nature, 1963)  Feeling free to select either one or the other, he mostly chooses the complete emergence of the disk in fixing the rising point on the horizon, but occasionally half the disk, and then also (for 2000 B.C.) one full diameter above the horizon (Stonehenge, p. 18).  This is hardly permissible: on the solar solstice the sun rises obliquely, and when it is in full view its lower limb is not even approximately where its upper limb is when the first ray of sunshine appears; in one instance, incidentally, Hawkins refers to a 2° displacement of the sun along the horizon during the time of emergence.

Contrary to that assumption that the ancients have not left any tradition for what they regarded as the rising moment of the sun, we have records from many ancient civilizations—Egyptian, Hebrew (Temple of Solomon*), Mexican—that the shining forth of the first ray of the sun was the moment.  The heliacal rising of a star, important in the reckoning of the so-called Sothis period in Egypt, was defined by the moment the first ray of the sun showed up.

(*The Temple of Jerusalem was so built that on the two equinoctial days the first ray of the rising sun shone directly through the eastern gate.  " Worlds in Collision, p. 318 with a reference to the Tractate Erubin of the Jerusalem Talmud).

Atkinson showed by a number of examples that Hawkins, in obtaining supposedly significant alignments for the moon and the sun, made "inadmissable" claims.  Thus of eight alignments claimed for Stonehenge III (one of the several periods during which the monument was taking its shape) "four of them fall outside Hawkins' own arbitrary limits of error; two more involve fallen stones; and one would almost certainly have been blocked by the Slaughter Stone when upright."  Especially offended is Professor Atkinson by Hawkins' claims based on Bernoulli's law of statistical chance.  "The probability quoted is wrong; the method of testing the hypothesis is wrong; and the restriction of the possible sightlines ... is wholly inadmissible."

The final blow came when it was shown that the 56 year cycle of lunar eclipses, first allegedly discovered by the Stonehengers, does not exist in nature.  Yet this was the only basis for identifying the 56 Aubrey holes and with them the entire Stonehenge complex as an ancient computer.  "Such eclipses repeat every 65 years (in periods of 19, 19 and 27 years) and not every 56 years (19, 19 and 18 years) as claimed by Hawkins", write R. Colton and R. L. Martin in Nature for February 4, 1967, in a paper titled "Eclipse Cycles and Eclipses at Stonehenge."  They also produce a table of eclipses for the last hundred years to demonstrate the true cycle.  "The Aubrey holes at Stonehenge were not constructed to predict eclipses on a 56 year cycle."

Thus of the entire theory not one thing is left.  But this is significant in itself.  Stonehenge emerges as an obsolete observatory, in the same state as the ancient sundials and waterclocks found in Egypt.  These also do not work today; they disclose a ratio of the longest day in the year to the shortest day that is very different from what is valid at the latitudes of Egypt in the present arrangement of the world (c.f. W in C., section "The Shadow Clock" and "The Water Clock").  However, Stonehenge could be rearranged to meet a new order, not so the water clocks and sun dials.

That Stonehenge was actually and repeatedly rearranged is not given to question.

I will quote Hawkins as well as Atkinson, his own authority on the archaeology of Stonehenge.  The history of this monument during construction is divided by Atkinson into periods I, II, IIIA, IIIB, and IIIC, altogether some 400 years.  "As in many of our later cathedrals and churches, not all of the structures we see at Stonehenge today were built at the same time."

To Period I, according to Atkinson, belong the bank and ditch, the Heel Stone, and the Aubrey holes.  "Nothing is known about the ceremonies for which they were used."

Period II "About 150 years later" the monument "was radically remodelled.  At least 80 bluestones, weighing up to four tons apiece, were brought from the Prescelly Mountains in Pembrokeshire," a place over 130 miles away (but as rollers roll and rafts float, 240 miles), and were set to form "a double circle in the center of the site." With an entrance on the north-east side, this double circle had a new axis: "on the opposite side was a large pit, which may have held a stone of exceptional size.... In order to make the entrance of the old earthwork fit this new axis, about 25 ft. of the bank on the east side of the entrance gap was thrown back into the ditch, to widen the original causeway."  The builders of this period, at the end of the Neolithic age "may possibly have introduced the idea of sky- or sun-worship." They "never completed their work."

Period IIIA.  "The double circle of bluestones, still unfinished, was dismantled and its stones put on one side.  In their place over 80 enormous blocks of sarsen stones were dragged from the Marlborough Downs"; they are what make the monument so impressive.

Period IIIB.  Soon thereafter, "rather more than twenty of the dismantled bluestones were selected, carefully dressed to shape, and erected in an oval setting." The "exact plan is still uncertain."

"It seems clear that to complete the monument the builders intended to use the remaining 60 bluestones; and it is almost certainly to hold these that the two rings of Y and Z Holes were dug.  But for some reason, perhaps an unforeseen catastrophe or an unlucky omen, the project was abandoned unfinished ... the whole design was given up, and the oval setting of dressed bluestones in the center was demolished."

Period IIIC.  "The final reconstruction of Stonehenge probably followed almost at once.  The uprights of the dressed oval structure were re-set in the horse-shoe of bluestones we see today." Other changes .were made and some stones were "battered down." "The rest of the circle was made up of the undressed bluestones which had earlier been intended for the Y and Z Holes.  Originally the total number of stones in this circle must have been at least 60 . . . The largest bluestone of all, the Altar Stone, was probably set up as a tall pillar in front of the central sarsen trilithon and has since fallen down."

"The date of this final reconstruction is not known for certain; but it seems likely that all three stages of Period III followed closely on one another, and that Stonehenge as we see it today was already complete by 1400 B.C."

Hawkins, speaking of Stonehenge II and "a pattern of radiating spokes" of stones, says: "This was an unusual pattern.  Could the spokes enclosing the sacred center have been meant to serve as sighting lines from or over that center?  Were the stones only a ritual barrier?  Or was the design a blunder?"  Whatever it was, "for some reason the whole double bluestone circle structure was abandoned, apparently in a hurry."

An interesting detail.  Just as the 56 holes in the Aubrey circle served Hawkins for his theory that Stonehenge was a computer, so four "stations" or points rather symmetrically positioned along that circle served him for his initial theory about the extent of solar and lunar movements along the horizon.  Atkinson claims that of these four points (none corresponds with any of the 56 holes) one is nothing but a. hole left by a dead tree, and another of the four stations was simply postulated by Hawkins (no mark present) for the sake of symmetry.  With the erection of the sarsen monoliths, the most important lines of sight were obstructed, and Hawkins readily admits this.  The question then is: Why should the builders of the monument disregard the purpose of the whole and obstruct needed lines of vision?

"The work of decoding Stonehenge can advance if calendric and astronomical texts of literate peoples of antiquity are consulted. The cuneiform texts should be processed by computers in order to find the direction of the terrestrial axis and the form of Earth's orbit in different periods of the second millennium and the first third of the first millennium before the present era."

Speaking of the sarsen circle of Stonehenge IIIA, Hawkins observes that its center did not coincide with that of the old Stonehenge I circle of Aubrey holes.  The "Slaughter Stone" was probably "tipped out of its hole ... during the first centuries after the construction, perhaps because it interrupted the Heel Stone view."

In the IIIB period "the bluestones which had been taken down to make way for the sarsens were re-erected in an apparently oval formation within the sarsen horseshoe.  Perhaps the 'Altar Stone' was erected.  The Y and Z holes were dug.  And then the bluestone oval was dismantled." "Like the Aubrey holes" the Y and Z holes were "filled soon after they were dug."

In the final stage—IIIC—"the builders re-erected the bluestones of the dismantled oval.  They made the bluestone horseshoe whose remains still stand today.  They also erected a circle of bluestones between the sarsen horseshoe and the sarsen circle."

Although in 1966 Professor Hawkins sent me a copy of Worlds in Collision with the request to inscribe it to him, I believe that at the time he wrote his Stonehenge Decoded he did not yet know the content of my book.  Writing of the bluestone spoked wheel, "If the builders did design that bluestone wheel as a moon-follower, it may be that they abandoned it so suddenly because they found" that it did not work as it should—Hawkins was just one step from making a correct deduction.

One project after another was started by the ancient builders, then abandoned and replaced with another arrangement.  The similar quotations from Atkinson and Hawkins bring close the idea that for purposes otherwise inexplicable, the structure was repeatedly remodeled to conform with the changed orders of the world.  It seems to me that the work of decoding Stonehenge can advance if calendric and astronomical texts of literate peoples of antiquity are consulted.  In the first place, the cuneiform texts with observations and calculations performed by the ancient sages should be brought into the picture—but first themselves processed by computers in order to find the direction of the terrestrial axis and the form of Earth's orbit in different periods of the second millennium before the present era.  It is not an easy assignment, and all depends on the good will of specialists in cuneiform astronomy and calendarology.  There exists, for instance, a cuneiform manual—mul apin—of before -700, using advanced methods, precise data, and proper mathematics, but in "complete disregard" of today's prevailing calendric and astronomical figures.  The cuneiform material is the richest, but there are preserved ancient data from Egypt, India, and Mexico, as well, and a comparative study of this material—a beginning made in Worlds in Collision—needs to be pursued as a major field of research.

The last change in the celestial order took place in the beginning of the seventh century, actually on March 23, -687 (W. in C., Part II, Ch. 2).  It is easily conceivable that subsequent efforts were made to adjust once more the stone markers of Stonehenge, and it is quite probable that the Heel Stone was moved from its former position.  Hawkins also speaks of a "hole in the avenue, large enough to hold a huge stone, from which the stone was removed."

The number 56 was sacred to Typhon, as Hawkins, advised by Professor G. de Santillana, found in Plutarch (American Scientist, December 1965).  This author of the first century of the present era reports that in the Pythagorean secret teaching "the figure of 56 angles [is sacred] to Typhon" in whom they see "a demoniac power."  In the same work of his (Isis and Osiris), Plutarch ascribes to Typhon "abnormal seasons" and in another essay in Morals, he explains: "The sun was not fixed to an unwandering and certain course, so as to distinguish orient and occident, nor did he [the sun] bring back the seasons in order" (W. in C., P. 121).

Other ancient writers identified Typhon with Lucifer, the Morning Star, and also with Seth (Satan).  Late Renaissance chronographers, on the basis of ancient texts, claimed that the Comet Typhon shone at the time the Israelites left Egypt (Abraham Rockenbach [1602] and other writers quoted in W. in C., pp. 82 ff).  Thus 56 was connected by the Pythagoreans with the Morning Star; and the Morning Star by other early authorities within the Exodus.  But care should be exercised not to make mathematical games out of Stonehenge.

Judging by the parallels in other civilizations and the repeated calendar changes in the next critical period, the eighth century and the beginning of the seventh, the late and massive Stonehenge III (A, B, and C) was, most probably, put together and repeatedly rearranged in that period of history to conform with the changes in the natural order.  History also teaches that it took several centuries after the great devastations at the close of Middle Bronze IIB (Middle Kingdom of Egypt) in the mid-second millennium, before man could apply himself to the task of erecting massive temples and observatories.

A criterion was offered for determining the age of Stonehenge: an antler of a red deer was found under one of the stones and more antlers in the fill of the holes.  But as the Lamont Geological Observatory of Columbia University answered (January 4, 1967) to an inquiry: "Antlers and bones are, in general, unreliable for radiocarbon dating."  Also the Radiocarbon Laboratory of the University of Pennsylvania, in answer to a similar inquiry, let it be known that experience in polar regions proves that antlers are easily contaminated and made to yield invalid dates.

The problem of the age of the various phases of construction of Stonehenge should not obscure the obvious fact that, whatever are the dates of various rearrangements, the ancient Stonehengers had true perils on their minds when they dragged huge monoliths from afar, when they made holes and filled them, when they watched that the sun should not continue to rise past the foreordained point on the horizon; in this concern of the generations of the ancients, the modern Stonehengers should see a clue; it is in vain to search the motive for erecting Stonehenge in awe before "the perils" of lunar eclipses during the few weeks following Halloween.

This paper first appeared as part of "A Rejoinder to Burgstahler and Angino," Yale Scientific Magazine, April, 1967.  Copyright 1967 by Immanuel Velikovsky.

PENSEE Journal I


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