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Peak District monolith is astronomically aligned
Posted: 28 March 2012

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A 2.2 metre high monolith located in the Peak District National Park is a 4,000 year old astronomical marker that points to geographic south, say researchers at the Nottingham Trent University.

Gardom monolith: View towards the south. This image shows how the north-facing side remains in shadow in the winter half year even during midday. Image: D. Brown/Nottingham Trent University.

The triangular-shaped monolith is situated at Gardom’s Edge, less than an hour’s drive from Manchester, where the National Astronomy Meeting is being held this week. Presenting the findings, Daniel Brown explained that the orientation and inclination of the monolith’s slope is aligned to the altitude of the Sun at mid-summer.

“The stone would have been an ideal marker for a social arena for seasonal gatherings,” he told the conference. “It’s not a sundial in the sense that people would have used it to determine an exact time. We think that it was set in position to give a symbolic meaning to its location, a bit like the way that some religious buildings are aligned in a specific direction for symbolic reasons.”

Brown and colleagues carried out a survey of the surface surrounding the monolith that revealed ‘packing stones’, suggesting that the monolith was deliberately oriented in this position. Meanwhile illumination models of the stone through the seasons over the last four millennia find that the during winter the slanted side remains in shadow, and during summer it is illuminated only in the morning and afternoon. Around midsummer, however, it lies in sunshine all day.

Nearby there are Bronze Age roundhouses and a late Neolithic enclosure, examples of lengthy human habitation of the region. But while humankind may not have had a thorough grasp of the planets and orbits like modern-day astronomers do today, the monolith shows that they at least understood the way the relative positions of the Sun and Moon changed with the seasons.

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