This odd stone may look like an unusual product of nature, but it’s actually a monument from about 4,000 years ago called a menhir. Archaeologists have long debated what menhirs were for, perhaps boundary markers or gravestones or something else. Now experts are saying this one, at Gardom’s Edge in the Derbyshire Peak District, England, may be a prehistoric calendar.
Archaeoastronomers, who study astronomical alignments in ancient monuments, studied the stone and found that where the sun hit the slanted side may have acted as a marker for seasons. Other prehistoric remains are nearby, including the mysterious carvings shown below.
Local Bronze Age people are believed to have kept their herds in the higher hills during summer and moved to the warmer valleys when winter set in. This handy calendar would have told them when to move their herds. While the researchers say this sundial may be unique, some other megalithic monuments have astronomical alignments, the most famous being Stonehenge. Megalithic monuments such as stone circles and menhirs can be found all over the British Isles and make for some interesting stops while hiking. Trails such as the Ridgeway Trail pass by several.
The Peak District is one of England’s most beautiful natural spots and Gardom’s Edge is a favorite spot for rock climbing.
[Images courtesy artq55 via flickr]
Scottish police are scratching their heads over a mysterious occurrence at Loch Ness this weekend, The Scotsman newspaper reports.
On Saturday night several eyewitnesses saw an object falling into or near the loch. Some describe it as a white light, others as a blue light. People said it was a balloon, or an ultralight, or a parachute. Some people said it didn’t fall at all, merely passed over the tree line.
In other words, nobody has the faintest idea what they saw.
So many people called emergency services, however, that it’s certain something strange was going on in the skies, and the police, the coastguard, a lifeboat crew, and the Royal Air Force went in search of it. Several hours of looking in the water and along the shore turned up nothing.
So what was it? Possibly a meteor. Meteors often cause UFO flaps. Large ones called “fireballs” or “bolides” can light up the sky and even change color as their various minerals get ionized from the heat of entering our atmosphere. Since they streak across the night sky so quickly, it’s hard to judge distance or location. This photo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, shows a bolide. It’s not a photo of whatever was over Loch Ness.
Sadly, there were no reported sightings of Nessie this weekend. Some people say the poor Loch Ness Monster may be extinct.
The Emperor Hadrian is one of Rome’s most famous emperors, ruling at the height of the Empire from 117-138 AD. His villa just north of Rome is a popular tourist attraction, yet some Italian researchers have discovered what countless visitors never noticed: the buildings are aligned with astronomical events.
On the summer solstice (June 21 this year) light passes through an opening above a doorway and shines on a niche in the opposite wall. The niche probably contained the statue of some deity. This sort of light effect has been found in other ancient sites. Another building is aligned both to the summer and winter (December 21 this year) solstices, during which the light shines through a row of doors.
The effects may have been part of the worship of Isis. Originally an Egyptian goddess, a popular mystery religion grew up around her in the Roman Empire.
Hadrian’s other famous monument, Hadrian’s Wall, is also the site of a recent discovery. At the fort of Vindolanda, dozens of circular huts have been discovered that don’t look like anything the Romans built. In fact, they look like the huts of the tribes living north of the wall in Scotland, outside the direct influence of the Roman Empire. These may have been homes for refugees from friendly tribes fleeing common enemies, perhaps during the invasion of Scotland by Emperor Septimius Severus (ruled 193-211 AD) or the homes of temporary workers who lived along the wall and served the Romans.
For more on Hadrian’s Wall and a hike you can take along the entire length, check out my series on hiking Hadrian’s Wall.
[Photo courtesy Jastrow]