& The Megaliths by John Michell
Not long after the beginning of Stone Age agriculture, something dramatic but mysterious took place along the western coasts of Europe. From the Canary Islands, Spain, and Portugal to Brittany, Ireland, Britain up to the northern Scottish isles, and parts of Scandinavia, large, skillfully built stone structures began to appear from early in the fifth millennium B.C.
Among the oldest and most impressive are great chambered mounds, such as New Grange in Ireland, Maes Howe on the main Orkney island, and the smaller Bryn Celli Ddu in Anglesea. Their main feature is a passageway, walled and roofed with large stones, leading to an inner stone cavern, sometimes with side chambers, buried deep within a dome-shaped mound of earth and stone. Archaeologists refer to them as tombs, but that was certainly not the limit of their function. Westminster Abbey, for example, is full of old bones but cannot be described as a mere tomb or reliquary. Particularly in Ireland, some of the stones within and around the mounds are inscribed with patterns or symbols. Their meaning is unknown, but in Martin Brennan's book "The Stars and the Stones," it is shown that some of the symbols are picked out by rays of light or shadow at particular times of the year. Brennan also shows that the passages into the mounds are so oriented that at a certain date they allow a light beam from the sun or moon to penetrate into the inner recesses of the chamber. New Grange, for example, receives the light of the rising sun at midwinter. This interplay of light and darkness with the carved symbols on the walls of the inner chamber suggests that the buildings were used for purposes other than burials: for recording seasons and astronomical cycles and as places of vigil and initiation. Rather than tombs, perhaps, they might be called temples.
According to the revised method of radiocarbon dating, the earliest known mound is at Kercado in Brittany, which was built in about 4800 B.C. Others range from about that time to 3000 B.C. or later. In the same period and into the second millennium B.C. many thousands of great stone or megalithic structures were built, together with vast stretches of earthworks. Regional variations are found between those in different lands, Britain having by far the greatest number of stone circles (almost a thousand are known) but the similarities between them are so striking that they must surely have had a common origin and purpose.
Until a few years ago it was believed that the megalith builders must have spread to the northwest fringes of Europe, as conquerors or missionaries, from some original seat of civilization on the Mediterranean. However, that theory was disproved by the discovery of radiocarbon dating, which established that the monuments on the Atlantic coastline were considerably older than their supposed Mediterranean prototypes. Academic patterns of prehistory were thereby upset, but attention was drawn to certain earlier writers, long ignored, who had anticipated this development. One of them was J, Foster Forbes, an antiquarian mystic and the author of several books on ancient Britain, such as "The Unchronicled Past" (1938). On the subject of stone circles he wrote that:
They were made from about 8000 B.C. by people from the West, priests who survived the Atlantis cataclysm. Their overall purpose was to, establish and maintain social order. They functioned both as lunar observatories and as receiving stations for celestial in- fluences at certain seasons. They were instrumental in augmenting the earth's fertility and the prosperity of the people by controlling the earth's field of vital and magnetic energies.
Several of these ideas, such as the western origin of the megalith builders, are in accordance with the later evidence, and others have since been verified. The use of stone circles for measuring the complicated cycles of the moon was demonstrated in Alexander Thom's "Megalithic Lunar Observatories" in 1971, and in his earlier work, "Megalithic Sites in Britain." Through statistical analysis of the numerous surveys he took of stone circles and neighboring monuments, Thom was able to show that:
Stone circles were precisely planned and laid out in accordance with
certain geometric figures in the classic Pythagorean tradition. The unit of measure in their designs was the "megalithic yard" of 2. 72 feet. Stones within and beyond the circles lined up to indicate a natural or artificial mark on the horizon where the moon or sun reached one of
the extreme positions in their cycles, as at a solstice. The megalith builders had a highly developed, unified code of science based on number and geometry, and they were expert surveyors, engineers, and astronomers.
These conclusions indicate that the ancient dwellers in Britain were not, as had previously been thought, savages and simple peasants, but people who lived in ordered societies governed by a religious-scientific priesthood.