Midwinter sunset at the Clava Cairns.
Anna Estaroth gave us a fascinating talk the other night on Archeoastronomy and Scotland’s Clava Cairns. Anna has been undertaking research at the Clava Cairns in pursuit of her MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology at Trinity St. Davids, University of Wales.
Anna explained that she used the title Ancestral Astrology for this talk, because it was probably the ancestors of the Picts who exhibited a special relationship with the sky when building the Clava Cairns near Inverness, Scotland. By defining astrology as being where the sun, moon, planets and stars can be said to impact upon humans, Anna argued that these megalithic structures constitute a form of ancestral astrology rather than ancestral astronomy. She then described these Bronze Age Cairns in relation to the midwinter sunset and lunar alignments.
Based on her fieldwork carried out in 2014-15, Anna asked six questions:-
1) Were the passage graves actually aligned to midwinter sunset?
This appeared to be demonstrated.
2) Were they orientated on the major and minor lunar limits, as suggested by some authors?
Again the answer was largely yes, once Anna explained the difference between the major and minor lunar limits.
3) The hilltop cairns appear to be better attuned to the sky, compared to the river-side low lying passage graves – are they?
The answer being yes and no, they may appear different and even functioned in a different way, but they all demonstrate a particular relationship with the sky.
4) One of the ring cairns is said to have “rays” – what are they about?
This was touched upon; they connect the central ring-cairn with stones aligned to midwinter sunset plus the minor limit moonrise and moonset.
5) Are there any alignments to major constellations such as Pleiades or Orion?
Answer no, not found so far.
6) Do any hill names indicate why they built here?
No – all hills have Gaelic names which derive from the historic period and we don’t even know the Pictish language let alone pre-Pictish.
We then looked at the software package Stellarium which Anna recommended. For your free download visit http://www.stellarium.org and check out your system’s requirements; there are downloads for both mac and windows users. The software offers a vivid picture of the sky as seen from almost any part of the world and over a wide period of history and even pre-history.
If you are interested in midwinter sunrise and sunset phenomena, access to view the solstice sun at Newgrange is now a lottery and anyone can enter. It may however, be more comfortable to look at the live feed on webcam. For more details see http://www.newgrange.com/winter_solstice.htm
Maes Howe also has a live feed camera operated by Charles Tait. This can be found at http://www.maeshowe.co.uk/ Tours are bookable from 10 am to 4 pm daily during the winter.