Merry Solstice

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.


When he's not tired, fixing his car or caught in train delays, Alun Salt works part-time for the Annals of Botany weblog. His PhD was in ancient science at the University of Leicester, but he doesn't know Richard III.