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13 December 2017
New theory: Stonehenge was built as part of a fertility cult

Accortding to a new study, Stonehenge could have been built as part of a fertility cult, with the stones positioned to cast phallic shadows inside the monument during midsummer. Archaeologist Terence Meaden, examined nearly 20 stone circles throughout Britain, filming their changing silhouettes during sunrise on ritually significant dates.
     Prof Meaden said the builders of Stonehenge, and other megalithic circles had created a 'play without words', in which one special stone cast a growing phallic shadow, which penetrated the egg-shaped monument before hitting a central 'female' stone symbolising fertility and abundance. It is the first time it has been suggested that these stones were oriented in order to create a 'moving spectacle'. Prof Meaden also discovered that a similar light show happens at Drombeg Stone Circle in Co Cork, where he spent 120 days photographing sunrise at the site over five years.
     The circular shape of the Stonehenge monuments allowed the same 'play' to recur at important dates in the neolithic farming calendar throughout the year, Prof Meaden believes. "Stones were positioned such that at sunrise on auspicious dates of the year, phallic shadows would be cast from a male-symbolic stone to a waiting female-symbolic stone," said Prof Meaden. "At Stonehenge, on days of clear sunrise, the shadow of the externally-sited phallic Heel Stone penetrates the great monument in the week of the summer solstice and finally arrives at the recumbent Altar Stone, which is symbolically female. This could be a dramatic visual representation of the consummation of the gods between a Sky Father and the Earth Mother Goddess."
     He found that the 'fertility play' occurs on eight ritually significant dates, starting on the winter solstice. Further studies of six other stone circles in Co Cork and Scotland found that they also aligned to the calendar.
     However other experts were less convinced by the theory. Barney Harris, an archaeology doctoral student from UCL said: "If it was so important to cast shadows back into the henge then why not do it during the midwinter sunset as well as at the midsummer sunrise?" Professor Mike Paker-Pearson, also of UCL, said: "Why would phalli have lintels on top? It's just bonkers."

Edited from The New Zealand Herald (10 December 2017), The Irish Independent (11 December 2017)

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