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31 January 2009
A controversial Canadian Stonehenge

An academic maverick is challenging conventional wisdom on Canada's prehistory by claiming an archeological site in southern Alberta is really a vast, open-air sun temple with a precise 5,000-year-old calendar predating England's Stonehenge. Mainstream archeologists consider the rock-encircled cairn to be just another medicine wheel left behind by early aboriginals. But 'Canada's Stonehenge', a new book by retired University of Alberta professor Gordon Freeman says it is in fact the centre of a 26-square-kilometre stone 'lacework' that marks the changing seasons and the phases of the moon with greater accuracy than our current calendar.
     A central cairn atop one of a series of low hills overlooking the Bow River, about 70 kilometres east of Calgary, had been partially excavated in 1971 and dated at about 5,000 years old. "As we walked toward the hilltop, I saw all kinds of patterns in the rocks on the way up. As I walked around the hilltop, I could see patterns that I doubted very much were accidental," says Freeman. He photographed what he saw and showed the images to archeologists. They told him the rocks, some of which weigh up to a tonne, had been randomly distributed by melting glaciers. But those rocks and rock piles, Mr. Freeman said, had been 'highly engineered,' shimmied and balanced and wedged in ways he couldn't believe were natural. And so began a magnificent obsession — 28 years of photographing the site in summer and winter, observing the alignment of rocks and how they coincided with the recurring patterns of sun, moon and stars. Twelve thousand photographs with precise times and dates are neatly catalogued in his files.
     After years of rising before dawn, in all seasons and weather, to carefully photograph the positions of the sun, Mr. Freeman found the rocks once thought to be simply strewn across the prairie instead mark the progression of the year with uncanny accuracy. Mr. Freeman is convinced the temple contains a lunar calendar as well, because 28 rays radiating from the central cairn correspond to the length of the lunar cycle.
     Mainstream archeology hasn't been exactly welcoming. Mr. Freeman says journals have rejected his papers and conferences have denied him a platform. Although he hasn't read Canada's Stonehenge, University of Alberta archeologist Jack Ives is familiar with Mr. Freeman's theories. He says recent research suggests some astronomical knowledge developed in Central and South America flowed north to the plains, where it was adapted by people for their own purposes. "There is some basis for thinking there was sophisticated astronomical knowledge," says Mr. Ives. But what exactly is manifested in the medicine wheels? "They may certainly reflect solstices and equinoxes. How much more sophisticated beyond that has been a subject of debate." But Mr. Ives points out the terrain in question is an ancient glacial moraine, full of naturally occurring rocks. "You have to be very careful about what you line up."
     Mr. Freeman, however, is convinced. He looks forward to the academic debate to come. Meanwhile, Mr. Freeman hopes to use any publicity generated by his book to push for preservation of the site.
     
Source: The Globe and Mail (29 January 2009)

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