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Sun-Earth Day Presents: Ancient Observatories, Timeless Knowledge

Technology Through Time: Issue #25, rhessi

A mystical place marked by upright stones, and built by the labors of ancient people. Not even their bones remain to tell us who they were, and for what inscrutable reason they built this temple.


Orkney Islands, Scotland
Latitude 59d 01' North
Longitude 3d 8.1' East


Considered to be the most awe-inspiring prehistoric site in Scotland, the Ring of Brodgar (Brogar) is located on a promontory between the Stennes and Harray Lochs. This nearly complete stone circle is one of the biggest in Britain. The stones are set within a circular ditch with a diameter of 300 feet, up to 9 feet deep and 27 feet across, hewn out of the solid bedrock by the prehistoric constructors. The surrounding area is full of other standing stones and Bronze Age round barrows, making a significant ritual landscape. The date of the ring's construction is uncertain as the site has yet to be fully excavated and scientifically dated. It was probably raised some time between 3000 BC and 2000 BC. Twenty-seven stones remain of an original sixty in the Ring of Brodgar and set up on a slope facing east. They vary from 6 feet to 13 feet tall. The site is laid out very accurately in a perfect circle, with the stones approximately 6 degrees apart.


The Brodgar and nearby Stennes rings were referred to by their traditional names until the early 1840's - the Ring of Brodgar being the "Temple of the Sun" and the Stenness stones the "Temple of the Moon". Simple observation suggest that several alignments with the sun exist that relate to the solstices and the equinoxes as well as times such as Beltane (Old May Day). At winter and summer solstices, the sunrises and sunsets align with the stones and notches in the hills. At spring and autumn equinoxes, viewed from the Comet Stone, the sun sets just glancing off the westernmost stone.



Image Gallery:

rhessi rhessi

Photo Credit:

Robin Rausch

Technology Through Time Bulletin Board Activity

This bulletin board activity is designed to focus student attention on the role that sun watching has played in humankind's survival through time. As part of this display you may wish to use your own world map ordownload one we have created for you.