Modelling Lunar Extremes
Claims first made over half a century ago that certain prehistoric monuments utilised high-precision alignments on the horizon risings and settings of the Sun and the Moon have recently resurfaced. While archaeoastronomy early on retreated from these claims, as a way to preserve the discipline in an academic boundary dispute, it did so without a rigorous examination of Thom’s concept of a “lunar standstill”. Gough’s uncritical resurrection of Thom’s usage of the term provides a long-overdue opportunity for the discipline to correct this slippage. Gough (2013), in keeping with Thom (1971), claims that certain standing stones and short stone rows point to distant horizon features which allow high-precision alignments on the risings and settings of the Sun and the Moon dating from about 1700 BC. To assist archaeoastronomy in breaking out of its interpretive rut and from “going round in circles” (Ruggles 2011), this paper evaluates the validity of this claim. Through computer modelling, the celestial mechanics of horizon alignments are here explored in their landscape context with a view to testing the very possibility of high-precision alignments to the lunar extremes. It is found that, due to the motion of the Moon on the horizon, only low-precision alignments are feasible, which would seem to indicate that the properties of lunar standstills could not have included high-precision markers for prehistoric megalith builders.
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