A new study suggests that Stonehenge and other ancient stone memorials could have been used for sacred moonlit ceremonies which took place late at night. The archaeologists taking part in this study have come to this conclusion, after finding that some mysterious messages are visible only at night.
The Peculiarity of Hendraburnick Quoit
Until recently, Neolithic structures were thought to be exclusively connected with the movements of the sun, with the immense Wiltshire circle of Stonehenge being the ultimate example, as the specific monument lines up perfectly with the summer solstice. However, a new archaeological study implies that the Neolithic monument was used differently than most structures of its kind. As The Telegraph reports, the new examination of the Stone Age engraved panel Hendraburnick Quoit in Cornwall by Dr. Andy Jones – who has been working in conjunction with the Cornwall Archaeological Unit – showed ten times as many markings on the engraved panel when viewed in moonlight or very low sunlight from the south east.
Marks on the rock came into view under a camera flash and would have lit up in moonlight Credit: Dr Andy Jones
For those who might not be aware of the specific monument, keep in mind that Hendraburnick “Quoit” is in fact a misnomer. In reality is not a quoit at all, but an impressive and picturesque propped stone, lying upon a gently rolling valley-side in Cornwall. It is an exciting site, and aside from being a testament to the power of prehistoric people to shift these enormous stones, it also highlights many ancient engravings known as cup-marks, which involve the hollowing out of rounded dimples in the rock.
Hendraburnick Quoit (CC BY SA 2.0)
Special “Effects” under the Moonlight
Interestingly, archaeologists also noticed that at some point in history, people who probably occupied the location near the site smashed up many pieces of quartz around the area which would have radiated light in the dark, thereby giving a unique and impressive effect during the night.
Dr. Jones claims that this unique phenomenon didn’t take place at the Hendraburnick Quoit exclusively, but instead it has also been traced in a few other ancient stone monuments such as Stonehenge for example. He told The Telegraph, “I think the new marks show that this site was used at night and it is likely that other megalithic sites were as well. We were aware there were some cup and ring marks on the rocks but we were there on a sunny afternoon and noticed it was casting shadows on others which nobody had seen before. When we went out to do some imaging at night, when the camera flashed we suddenly saw more and more art, which suggested that it was meant to be seen at night and in the moonlight.”
llustration of the marks found on the rock Credit: Thomas Goskar
Sacred Attribute of the Hendraburnick Quoit
Writing in the archaeology journal Time and Mine, Dr. Jones and colleague Thomas Goskar conclude, “As in many cultures where darkness is associated with the supernatural and the heightening of senses, it is possible that some activities at Hendraburnick Quoit may have been undertaken at night. Quartz has luminescent properties and reflects both moonlight and firelight. Given that human eye perceives color and shade quite differently at night than by daylight and the art would have been visible in moonlit conditions, the smashed quartz at Hendraburnick could have been used as part of night time activity on the site in order to ‘release’ the luminescent properties of the quartz around the monument and ‘reveal’ the art in a particular way. After the ritual, the broken pieces, once they had fallen on the ground, could have effectively formed a wider platform or arc which would have continued to glisten around it in the moonlight, and thereby added to the ‘aura’ of the site.”
Next step for archaeologists is to discover what exactly happened during these special ceremonies under the moonlight. The new research was published in the archaeology journal Time and Mind.
Top image: Lanyon Quoit. Used as the overriding image of ancient Cornwall and also known as the Giant's Table. (CC BY SA 2.0)
By Theodoros Karasavvas