Friday, January 24, 2014

Hutton and Archaeoastronomy

I was reading more of Ronald Hutton's "Pagan Britain" Wednesday night.  The only difficulty with reading it just before I go to bed is that I sometimes get too tired to follow the review of the archaeological literature.

I'd just gotten to the point where Hutton is talking about "The Strange History of British Archaeoastronomy" and was laughing a little bit about some of the more woo-woo examples when Mark wanted to know why Hutton was dishing people like Robin Heath on one hand, and then pleading ignorance of astronomy and engineering (and thus being able to contribute to the scholarly debate about Archaeoastronomy) on the other.

"He seems to dish people a lot," Mark said.  "All it does is elevate the arguments of folks like Heath"

"Well, he's not exactly dishing Heath," I said.  "He's, um, ... well..." -- and this was were I wished I was a little more awake-- "...he's um, pointing out that some folks outside of archaeology's methodology are making archaeological claims.  I'm not sure if he's cherry-picking for silly examples the same way Philip Davis did in 'Goddess Unmasked.'"  

Apparently, to cross-reference "Pagan Britain," I need to read Heath's "Sun, Moon and Stonehenge."  And probably re-read "Stonehenge Decoded."  After re-reading the section on British Archaeoastronomy, the discipline started with Sir Norman Lockyer's circa 1900 studies, where-in he claimed Phoenicians brought sun worship and accompanying megalithic structures to Britain (and now I have to re-read Hutton's "Blood and Mistletoe").  Unfortunately, (according to Hutton) there's no evidence for Phoenicians coming to Britain, and Lockyer got some key dates of things (like the construction of Stonehenge) wrong.  Carbon-dating threw a wrench into the theories.

Fast forward to Gerald Hawkins' "Stonehenge Decoded," (which I own) and Alexander Thom's work, which introduced the "megalithic yard."  Suddenly all sorts of religious structures are being theorized based on the alignment of various rocks, which would be like assuming my family has festivals on the Equinoxes because our current house happens to be aligned on an east-west alignment.  (Well, I've got the robes and stuff, but Mark doesn't, and getting up before dawn is hard and...)  The other difficulty is that the stellar alignments are more probable than clock-work, and there's always the question of, is such-and-such structure finished or abandoned?

Heath is an engineer and a college instructor--at least according to Hutton; Wikipedia lists him as an astrologer.  I own a small book by Heath:  "Sun, Moon & Earth" which I purchased at the Glastonbury Tor Chalice Well Gift-shop.  Other than a woo-woo tone, a fixation on mathematical coincidences, and an interest in Thom's megalithic yard, "Sun, Moon & Earth" is a fairly straightforward introduction to the apparent astronomical motions of the sun and moon.  With suggestive drawings using the golden ratio or phi.  OK, and a fairly anti-intellectual introduction.

It's the main reason I own what I call "Portable Stonehenge," because in it, Heath shows a picture of how you can take 56 holes in a circle and use it to track eclipses of the sun and moon.  Which I do.  Now I'm going to have to go back and see if the 56 Aubrey holes at Stonehenge were used this way, or simply suggested by Hawkins in "Stonehenge Decoded."

Hutton singles out Heath as an example of someone with mystical, counter-culture "archaeological" theories created by out-dated or misinterpreted readings of the archaeological record and promoted outside the academic review process.  I think there is some expert-dishing-of-non-experts going on, but it's fair to say that Mark's perception that Hutton's books are full of dishing is skewed by how much I laugh and laugh when Hutton uncovers what I call "The Gourd and The Shoe Moments" in Neo-Pagan history.

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