I’ve refined the summer solstice sunrise and added a winter solstice sunset. Here is a video walk-through of the southern and northern circles at virtual Avebury viewed at both midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset. I love the way the shadows of the stones fall, and how some shadows touch other stones.
The arrangement of stones in the northern circle of Avebury is known as “The Cove”. It originally would have consisted of 3 stones, of which only 2 remain standing today as shown in the picture on the left. The third stone was to the left of the megalith in the centre and the arrangement would have created a box shape with an open side pointing north east, i.e. in the direction the picture is pointing. The smaller stone you can see to the left of the central stone is all that is left today of the circle that surrounded The Cove. There were some other stones inside the circle, and geophysical investigation has suggested that there may have been a row of smaller stones facing the open side of The Cove, but this isn’t yet known for sure.
As I’ve been constructing virtual Avebury, the northern and southern circles have been feeling more and more important, so I erected the Obelisk in the southern circle, which I discussed in the last post, and now I’ve put up the 3 stones of The Cove in the northern circle to see how they look, shown in the picture below. The stone pyramids are markers for stones I have yet to make and place.
As with every new stone setting I make, I’m fascinated by them! As the open side faces the position of the rising sun at the summer solstice, I thought I’d try out some of the sky preset effects in Firestorm (the viewer I use) to get the sun to rise at its summer solstice position at virtual Avebury. To do that, I checked the time of sunrise on 21st June this year (OK, not strictly correct as it should be 4.5K years ago but it’s near enough!) which was 03:43 GMT. I then went to the NOAA Solar Position Calculator and entered the date as 21st June, the latitude and longitude for Avebury (51.4295N, 1.8530W) and the time of 03:43. The sun position calculator then gave me the solar azimuth as 49.29, i.e. the sun’s position on the horizon measured in degrees clockwise from north at that time, location and date. However, the elevation above the horizon at that time was -0.06, so whilst that may be technically sunrise, it wouldn’t be visible as a spectacular rising above the horizon, so I tweaked things until the elevation was 1, which actually made very little difference to the time (03:55) and the azimuth setting (51.33). So far so good!!
Firestorm has the facility to change the position of sunrise and sunset from its default of rising dead east and setting dead west. In the sun controls (the slider known as the ‘easting’ control) east is set as 0, as the sun rises dead east at the equinoxes (roughly 21st March and 21st September). Running the slider along its length moves the sun through 360 degrees around the border of the sim, ending up east again at 1.0. North is set as 0.75. As the azimuth setting I’m looking for is 51.33 degrees east of north, I took that away from 90 to find out how many degrees north of east I’m looking for. Answer = 38.67. I then worked out what decimal fraction of 360 that is (answer was 0.105), and then subtracted that from 1 to find out what I had to slide the easting control to for midsummer sunrise. Still with me?? 🙂 Anyhoo, 1 minus 0.105 is 0.895, so that’s what I set the sun position to be in Firestorm. And hey presto!
Here is the result. The sun rising directly into the mouth of The Cove. I’m blown away by this! Reading some of the literature on theories relating to astronomical alignments at Avebury, writers like Burl (2000) are unconvinced of The Cove’s orientation to the rising summer sun because the width of the “sightline” would make it inaccurate. But I think this completely misses the point. The builders of Avebury were not building an observatory, where sightlines and accuracy matters, but were more likely building monuments that had particular meanings for them. The days before and after the solstice, when the sun would still fill The Cove on rising, may have had special significance. Perhaps that period of several days was a festival of some sort. In any case, we need to be very careful about overlaying post-Enlightenment, western scientific criteria onto our interpretations of structures that may have had very different meanings to their builders. Here endeth the first lesson 🙂
If you’d like to visit virtual Avebury you’re welcome to. Simply go to Kitely.com, set up a free avatar account (remember your u/n and password!) and then download the Firestorm viewer (Google ‘Phoenix Firestorm’). Open the viewer and enter your u/n and password and when you have rezzed on the welcome site, click on the search magnifying glass in the viewer and enter EIC at UWE. Teleport there and you’ll land at the visitor centre. Look at the top of your screen and click on Avatar, then Preferences and then Graphics. Set your draw distance as far as possible (Avebury is a big sim!) and then feel free to have a good look around. If you’d like to hear the soundscape too, just click on the movie camera icon in the top right of your viewer. Virtual Avebury is still very much still under construction, but I’d love to get as much feedback as possible as I go along – evaluation is one of the things I need to do lots of for my Advanced Dip dissertation! I’ve set the sky to be perpetual summer solstice sunrise at the moment, so I’d be particularly glad to get feedback on how it makes you feel.
P.S. The horizon hills are being made as a mesh sculpture by my genius collaborator Aaron Griffiths, in New Zealand. Looking fab already, Aaron!
Burl A. 2000 The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany. London: Yale University Press.
The construction is moving on well, so I think I need to step back, take a breath and think about what I’m learning from all this. It’s easy to get carried away with the research and building as it is so absorbing, but I’ve also realised that I am beginning to develop a different sense of Avebury than I have previously had. I’ve visited the physical place probably more than a hundred times in my life; as I only live 7 miles away it is a place I go to frequently. But constructing a virtual simulation has given me a different perspective, and made me think about some things that have never really struck me before. So these are some thoughts about insides and outsides, and entrances and exits.
I’m becoming more and more affected by the difference between being inside and outside the henge in virtual Avebury. In physical world Avebury the outside and inside are not as clearly delineated as there are roads and paths running through the henge and there are several buildings inside it, including a shop and a pub, that block the view across it. In some places it is easy to lose the sense of whether you are inside or outside the henge, but in virtual Avebury the difference is very clear. And that strong sense of being inside or outside has made me realise why the gaps in the ditch and bank system, that are often referred to as entrances, might be so important. The evidence seems to show that the stones in front of the entrances are some of the largest in the complex and that the banks were higher and the ditches deeper as they got close to the entrances, giving them an extra emphasis. There may even have been some wooden supports around the ends of the banks. The act of moving from outside to inside, and the other way round, feels important in virtual Avebury in a way it is harder to comprehend in the present day remains of the henge. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the entrances were for anyone to use; it may have been restricted access for certain people. Or the entrances may not have been for people at all, but for spirits, or light, or something insubstantial. But whatever the gaps in the banks and ditches were for, they certainly feel important, even key, in virtual Avebury.
Another thing that has struck me is that the remaining 3 stones at the entrances today (2 at the southern entrance and 1 at the northern entrance) suggest that the builders chose very large, rectangular stones deliberately. The 2 stones at the southern entrance are set square in the ground, whereas the remaining northern stone is set on one of its points to give the iconic Avebury diamond stone shape. In all the years I have been going to Avebury, it didn’t really strike me that the stones are very similar shapes, and they have been deliberately set to create the rectangular and diamond shapes. It was only when I was modelling and setting them that it really struck me. Seems ridiculous that I have looked at these stones for years, but that I hadn’t fully realised the significance of deliberately turning the northern one through 45 degrees compared to the southern ones. So, I have set the partner of the northern entrance stone in the same way, as it seems likely to me that they were both set as a pair, as are the southern entrance stones. Then I thought about what to do at the eastern and western entrances. Well, perhaps the northern half of the henge was represented by diamond shapes and the southern by rectangular shapes, so I have set the northern stones at the eastern and western entrances as diamonds and the southern stones as rectangles. Of course, that’s my interpretation, but as long as I’m clear about the distinction between evidence and interpretation, that’s fine. After all, without interpretation we wouldn’t be able to make sense of sites like Avebury at all!
I think that once I extend the southern and western entrances into the West Kennet and Beckhampton avenues, the nature of them is likely to change again, and I’m thinking about different ways in which that might be represented. For example, leaving the grass short inside the avenues and long outside would give a different feel to having a short grass path outside the avenue and leaving the grass long inside. I’ve been creating paths inside the henge to see how that makes it feel – I think that will be the subject of the next post!