Friday, 12 February 2016

Can geodesy and its links to ancient monuments be used in teaching?

Our earliest society believed that their Universe consisted of a sphere in which the Earth was at the centre (known as a geocentric or Ptolemaic worldview).

The "Solving the Neolithic" project is based on the idea that some Neolithic structures may be the result of the way our ancestors came to the above conclusion: Several dozen monuments have the appearance of being the remains of structures built to answer philosophical questions about the nature of the world. A few of these methods require some lateral thinking.

A sample of remains which might result from some of these logical thought processes can be found at Avebury, Newgrange, Knowth and each of the three main phases of Stonehenge.

The post below is about whether or not this type of logic-driven discovery process has any value as a teaching aid in the modern era. It came about through a discussion in the Pre-historic society's area of facebook. If you have any comments about how this might be used in teaching, please feel free to comment on this page or on the facebook site


Some of the ideas on how this might be applied have already been written up for try-out in schools. The methods that appear to me to have the highest likelihood of having some use in education are:

1) A method to find out if the stars rotates around our planet

This arrangement is partially written up and can be reproduced at a location known as The Long Man in East Sussex. There is some debate about whether or not the Long Man itself is any more than a few hundred years old. However, it is known that the relevant slope was cleared during the Neolithic.

2) A layout description of the general cosmos (stars) 
This idea is a method of describing our cosmos from the point of view of an observer standing on what she believes to be a fixed world. It applies to a few locations (Ring of Brodgar for example). In this instance, the method of describing that cosmos is written up for Phase II of the monument known as Stonehenge.

3) A layout description of how to work out if the Sun's movement is fixed from year to year

Once the cosmos is established (2 above), the layout can be drawn geocentrically to show how the sun moves and its furthest extent at solstice. Once drawn out, this layout is the same as a place called Avebury (for winter solstice). It's worth looking at Stonehenge below (item 10) before reading this one.

4) A construction method to determining whether the Sun has fixed ranges

This method requires some lateral thinking, but results in structures that appear to be duplicated at many sites. The one with the highest degree of confirmatory details, together with engravings representing the ideas, is Newgrange.

5) A method to find out whether or not the Earth is curved or a flat disk 
This combination of circumstances is unusual because it requires some very specific conditions to exist naturally. At Preseli, it is possible to conclude that our world is not flat by walking from one tall hill to another. These conditions happen to exist just above the spot that the quarry for Stonehenge's bluestones is thought to be located: Neolithic mounds are located at the precise location of each of the two natural features.

6) A construction method to find out whether or not the Earth is a (curved) sphere or a curved disk

This method requires a series of observations at unusual topographic locations. Each of these locations has a monument, of the specialised form required, and placed at exactly the correct topographical spot. This series of Neolithic monuments exists along the South Coast of England.

As yet it is not written up for the internet, but a very short explanation can be found in the book.

7) A layout description of a method to determine how to find out the size of the Earth

This method is a variant on the one used by Al-Biruni in the 16th century. Unlike Al-buruni's method, it does not require any special equipment. Al-Biruni's method is different from the one thought to have first been developed by Eratosthenes. This layout, needed for the modified Biruni method, is the same as found at a Neolithic monument along the South Coast of England.

As yet it is not written up for the internet, but a very short explanation can be found in the book.

8) A construction method to determine the size of the Earth

The method described in 6&7 above requires a specialised monument at a specific topographical location. The best example of this type of arrangement exists as a Neolithic monument on the adjacent hill to the one described in 7 above.

As yet it is not written up for the internet, but a detailed explanation, together with the results of tests to reproduce the method, can be found in the book.

9) Ancillary construction methods required to determine the size of the Earth

These arrangements exist as a series of Neolithic monuments adjacent to the hill described in 8) above.

As yet it is not written up for the internet, but a very short explanation can be found in the book.

10) A layout description (geocentric) of the results of some of the above [of two parts]

This arrangement is a general description of a known cosmos after all the experiments (and some others) referred to above have been done. This layout exists at Stonehenge in its third and last phase (but nowhere else).

11) A construction method to physically demonstrate the results of all of the above

This arrangement recreates a physical demonstration of knowledge about a geocentric system. The result of this is spectacular. The basis of this system was published as a patent in the 1970's and similar systems are in use in India today. An alternative version of this type of system appears to be duplicated at Stonehenge.

A description of this system can be found in the book. It would require significant effort to duplicate it for teaching purposes, so has not been linked to at this stage.


I've cut the above list down, but there are more than a dozen arrangements, for other similar purposes related to geodesy, which appear to be duplicated in Neolithic monuments. A much shortened version of the above list, in a format already prepared for schools, can be found here.
The sequence that the project is based upon starts with a single observation at a geographical location which has a very unusual set of characteristics. This set of characteristics only appears to exist in Scotland, and only at one place.

If you have any comments about how any of the above might be used in teaching, or which ones would be best prepared in more detail, please feel free to comment on the facebook page or on this site. 

We would be especially grateful for sharing on social media to anyone who might be interested.

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