UNITED KINGDOM — New findings revealed this week suggest that ancient monuments in Britain could have been used for night-time, perhaps moonlit, ceremonies. Dr Andy Jones, principal archaeologist with the Cornwall Archaeological Unit, has produced a paper for the archaeology journal Time And Mind, detailing those findings.
These discoveries relate to the site of Hendraburnick Quoit located in Hendraburnick Down, near Davidstow in northern Cornwall and close to Bodmin Moor. A quoit is a large, flat stone which is used to cover a dolmen or tomb, and the site of this quoit dates back to the late Neolithic (4000 – 6000 years ago).It is debatable whether it is part of a long barrow or a naturally occurring feature. However, Dr Jones’ research suggests that part of it, a slate slab, was deliberately dragged to the location, possibly from the valley below. He suggests that this placement occurred around 2500 BCE.
His principal research is based on cup and ring marks: mysterious markings found not only on this site, but on stones throughout the British Isles.
Usually, archaeological investigations take place by day in the case of non-emergency studies, but Dr. Jones’ team chose to undertake some photography by night. It was then that Dr Jones and his colleague Thomas Goskar discovered a further 105 markings in addition to the 13 that they were investigating.
The site is also surrounded by deliberately broken quartz that gleams in moonlight. Smashed quartz can be found at other sites; for instance at the Early Bronze Age cairn at Olcote near Calanais, on the Isles of Lewis. Archaeologists have suggested that it is related to funerary and/or lunar rites. Dr Jones writes:
I think the new marks show that this site was used at night and it is likely that other megalithic sites were as well. We were aware there were some cup and ring marks on the rocks but we were there on a sunny afternoon and noticed it was casting shadows on others which nobody had seen before. When we went out to some imaging at night, when the camera flashed we suddenly saw more and more art, which suggested that it was meant to be seen at night and in the moonlight.
Then when you think about the quartz smashed around, which would have caused flashes and luminescence, suddenly you see that these images would have emerged out of the dark. Stonehenge does have markings, and I think that many more would be found at sites across the country if people were to look at them in different light.
This is important not only because of the intrinsically interesting nature of these markings, but because Neolithic monuments, such as Stonehenge, are supposed to be solar in nature, aligning as many of them do with the sun. Dr Jones adds:
As in many cultures where darkness is associated with the supernatural and the heightening of senses, it is possible that some activities at Hendraburnick Quoit may have been undertaken at night.
Quartz has luminescent properties and reflects both moonlight and firelight. Given that human eye perceives colour and shade quite differently at night than by daylight and the art would have been visible in moonlit conditions, the smashed quartz at Hendraburnick could have been used as part of night time activity on the site in order to ‘release’ the luminescent properties of the quartz around the monument and ‘reveal’ the art in a particular way.
After the ritual, the broken pieces, once they had fallen on the ground, could have effectively formed a wider platform or arc which would have continued to glisten around it in the moonlight, and thereby added to the ‘aura’ of the site.
Archaeological investigation of this particular site is ongoing, and it has been suggested that it might be worth looking at other sites of a similar period at night to see whether patterns of art and their use might be discerned.