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Medieval Mathematics

Math in Medieval times was evident at Stonehenge. Stonehenge and its purpose remains an mystery even now, more than 4,000 years after it was first constructed. It could have been a temple, an astronomical calendar, or guide to the heavens. Despite the fact that we don’t know its purpose for certain, Stonehenge acts as a prehistoric timepiece, allowing us to theorize what it would have been like during the Neolithic Period, and who could have built this ancient wonder.

Stonehenge stands on open land of the Salisbury Plain two miles west of the town of Amesbury, Wiltshire, in Southern England. It is not a single structure but is made up of a series of earth, timber, and stone structures that were revised and re-modelled over a period of more than 1400 years. Construction took place in three phases, over 25 generations. It stands to a height of 330 ft above sea level. Most of it was the result of human muscle and a system of ropes and wooden levers used to transport the massive stones. Primitive tools, such as red deer antlers, were used to dig up the chalky countryside of Salisbury Plain, which was then taken away on oxen shoulder blades. The design and construction involved thousands of people.

Architecture of Stonehenge

The earliest portion of the complex dates to approximately 2950-2900 BCE. It is comprised of a circular bank, ditch, and counterscarp bank of about 330 feet in diameter. Just inside the earth bank is a circle of the 56 Aubrey holes that held wooden posts.

Around 2100-2000 B.C.E., a circle about 108 feet in diameter comprised originally of 30 upright sand blocks standing 13 feet above the ground, about 6.5 feet wide, and 3 feet thick, supporting a continuous ring of “sarsen lintels” was constructed in the center of the original circle. A little later the shape of a horseshoe was added to the center it was made up of ten upright sarsens arranged as five pairs with a single lintel.

About 2,000 BC, the first stone circle (which is now the inner circle), comprised of small bluestones, was set up, but abandoned before completion. The stones used in that first circle are believed to be from the Prescelly Mountains, located roughly 240 miles away, at the southwestern tip of Wales. The bluestones weigh up to 4 tons each and about 80 stones were used, in all. Given the distance they had to travel, this presented quite a transportation problem. Modern theories speculate that, “the stones were dragged by roller and sledge from the inland mountains to the headwaters of Milford Haven. There they were loaded onto rafts, barges or boats and sailed along the south coast of Wales, then up the Rivers Avon and Frome to a point near present-day Frome in Somerset”.

Calendar Theory

In 1964 the American astronomer Gerald S. Hawkins used findings obtained by supplying a computer with measurements taken at Stonehenge together with astronomical information based on celestial positions in 1500 BC when Stonehenge was in use. According to Hawkins the Stonehenge complex could have been used to predict the summer and winter solstices, the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, and eclipses of both the sun and moon. Hawkins determined that Stonehenge functioned as a means of predicting the positions of the sun and moon in relation to the earth, and also the seasons, and he went as far as to imply that it was also used as a daily calendar.

People could learn the time of year by watching how the Sun and Moon rose and set relative to accurately placed stones and pits. The placement of the boulders at Stonehenge, however, is not accurate by today’s standards, nor even by the standards of that time. The alignment also made it clear that whoever built Stonehenge had precise astronomical knowledge of the path of the sun and must have known before construction began precisely where the sun rose at dawn in the middle of summer in the morning. Today most scholars interpret Stonehenge as a monument to the Sun in celebration of the predictability of the seasons.



Dating Stonehenge. Retrieved October 28, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://exn.ca/mysticplaces/stonehenge.cfm

Dimitrakopoulos, S. (2000). Mystic Places. Discovery Channel Canada. Retrieved October 28, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://exn.ca/mysticplaces/stonehenge.cfm

Ashmawy, A.(2000). Stonehenge. Retrieved October 28, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://ce.eng.usf.edu/pharos/wonders/ Forgotten/ stonehenge.html

Encarta Encyclopedia. (2000). Stonehedge Retrieved October 28, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://encarta.msn.com/find/ MediaMax.asp?pg=3&ti=761553375&idx=461575235

Tulane University.(1999).Stonehenge english mystery and fact Retrieved October 28, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://www.tulane.edu/~kidder/Anth%20201/ Lecture% 20outlines/Anth%20201%20lect%2027%20outline.html

Archaeology Explorer.(1999).Stonehenge Retrieved October 28, 2000 from the World Wide Web:http://www.iversonsoftware. com/business /archaeology/Stonehenge.htm

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