Stonehenge Isn’t an Ancient Calendar After All

The purpose of Stonehenge has long been a mystery. Last year, archaeologist Timothy Darvill claimed that it was a solar calendar that represented a typical solar year of 356.25 days. Now, two scientists have publicly rejected his idea.

Darvill’s theory

Stonehenge is one of the most famous archaeological sites on the planet. Almost everyone recognizes the large rectangular “sarsen” stones positioned in a circle on the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England.

There are now 17 stones in the main circle, but Darvill suggested that the original 30 stones represented the 30 days in a month. The ten inner stones, which are split into five pairs and carry lintel stones, represented the five remaining days each year. Dervill argued that the four “station stones” that are outside the main circle represented leap years.


Photo: Shutterstock


The rebuttal

Mathematician Giulio Magli and astronomer Juan Antonio Belmonte do not believe that Stonehenge would have been accurate enough to serve as a solar calendar. They argue that there isn’t anything in the monument that represents the number 12 — the months in a year. They state that Darvill’s interpretation is “based on a series of forced interpretations, numerology, and unsupported analogies with other cultures.”

Though the pair rejects the idea of Stonehenge as a calendar, they do believe it is related to celestial movements. There was “clear, symbolic interest of the builders to the solar cycle. However, this is very far from saying that people used the monument as a giant calendrical device,” they wrote in their rebuttal of Darvill’s work.


Photo: Shutterstock


During the summer solstice, the sun rises over the Heel Stone, in the northeast of the circle, and its rays directly hit the center of the monument, marking the changing of the seasons. During the winter solstice, it aligns with the sun as it sets to the southwest of the circle. To this day, thousands gather at Stonehenge to mark the solstice.

Few deny that people used Stonehenge to mark the changing point of seasons, but Magli and Belmonte don’t think the ancient structure would have been able to distinguish minor changes within the sun’s daily movements. Furthermore, at the time of construction, most people followed a lunar calendar, so a solar monument seems unlikely.

Still a mystery

The function of the 5,000-year-old structure continues to spark debate. The folklore surrounding Stonehenge includes tales of giants and temples. Some researchers claim it was a burial ground or a healing site. Others suggest that the site served for religious ceremonies or, as with Darvill, that it represents some kind of calendar.

Rebecca McPhee

Rebecca McPhee is a freelance writer for ExplorersWeb.

Rebecca has been writing about open water sports, adventure travel, and marine science for three years. Prior to that, Rebecca worked as an Editorial Assistant at Taylor and Francis, and a Wildlife Officer for ORCA.

Based in the UK Rebecca is a science teacher and volunteers for a number of marine charities. She enjoys open water swimming, hiking, diving, and traveling.