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Sunrise on the Winter Solstice
Sunrise on Winter Solstice. Photo by Steffe.

Today is when the rises and sets at its most southerly extreme, marking the shortest day for observers in the Northern Hemisphere, and the longest day observers in the Southern Hemisphere. There’s a nice photo mosaic of it today at Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Archaeology in Europe and The Megalithic Portal both point to stories about a replica of the prehistoric circle at Goseck, Germany, being opened for the occasion.

Closer to home, Tom Goskar of Past Thinking is at Stonehenge for the solstice. He points out a new album on Flickr with photographs from today. Well worth a look as some of them are very atmospheric. I’m quite jealous. Tom notes that attending the sunrise really was above and beyond the call of duty as no-one currently suggests there was a significant sunrise alignment for midwinter.

In some ways this is a little odd. Recent work at the nearby henge of Durrington Walls would favour a midwinter sunrise alignment. If there is a midwinter significance to Stonehenge then it would, in contrast, be an alignment on the setting sun. If you approach the monument from the Avenue as the sun set then, if there’s clear enough weather, you’d see the sun set behind Stonehenge.

There have been pig bones found near Durrington Walls recent which have also suggested a winter festival at the site. This appeals to me from a social point of view, as people tend to look more actively for divine help when things are going badly. But being able to point to data and ask why they were killing an awful lot of pig in winter gives you a bit more to go on than a nice feeling.

Though I don’t frown on feeling nice, so Happy Yuletide to those who celebrate it, Bona Saturnalia to others, Happy Hannukah, Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings to anyone I missed.