The Wizard of Aotearoa
The Henge is a window into the past. Stone circles played an important part in the history of almost everyone. The stones are neutral and welcome people of all cultures, beliefs, faiths and religions.
The vision for Stonehenge Aotearoa was to create a practical open-sky observatory inspired by, and built on a similar scale to, the famous Stonehenge in England. However, it is not a replica of this mysterious ancient monument but a modern interpretation, based upon the many stone circles and astronomical stone structures scattered around the globe.
Stonehenge Aotearoa is designed specifically for its location in the Wairarapa region of New Zealand’s North Island.
It combines modern scientific knowledge with ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Celtic, Polynesian and Maori starlore. It is used to teach maramataka (the calendars of time and seasons). The stones also form a Polynesian star compass and can be used to teach navigation.
At the centre of the henge is a bronze compass rose marked with the cardinal points. The coordinates of the centre of this rose are:
LATITUDE: 41o 06’ 04”.8 South
LONGITUDE: 175o 34’ 24” East, or
11h 42m 17.6s ahead of coordinated universal time.
ELEVATION: 94 metres above mean sea level.
Stonehenge Aotearoa under construction
Stonehenge Aotearoa consists of 24 upright pillars, connected by lintels to form a circular structure 30 metres in diameter and approximately 4 metres high. This structure is similar in design and size to the circle of sarsen stones at Stonehenge on Salisbury Plains, England.
Seen from the centre, the pillars and lintels form windows or doorways along the horizon. These frame the rising and setting points of bright stars that are either important seasonal markers or navigational beacons.
Large stone circles have special acoustic properties that focus and amplify sounds within the circle. In ancient times these acoustic properties were used to create special effects at ceremonies held within the circle. Stonehenge Aotearoa has these acoustic properties and forms a natural amphitheatre.
Entrance to the stone circle is via a causeway which has a line of standing stones to either side. Two large carved pillars, one to either side of the entrance to the causeway, form the Sun Gate. Seen from the centre of the Henge the Sun rises in this gateway on the morning of the spring equinox.
Ten metres beyond the stone circle are six heel stones. These are of varying heights but, seen from the centre of the Henge, each appears to touch the horizon. These six stones mark the rise and set points of the sun at the midsummer and midwinter solstices, and the autumn and spring equinoxes.
Near the centre of the Henge is a 5-metre-high obelisk. Using the obelisk you can identify the location of the south celestial pole - the point around which the entire heavens appears to revolve.
Half an hour to either side of local noon the obelisk casts a show on the analemma, a 10-metre-long stone tiled area that runs along the meridian south of the obelisk.
This structure is a gigantic clock and calendar. In addition to demonstrating the changing altitude of the midday sun over the year, it also identifies the current date, the times of the solstices and equinoxes and the precise time of local noon. It also reveals things that we cannot see - the ever changing length of a day (due to the eccentricity of the Earth’s orbit) and, where the sun would be seen if you could view it from space - the constellation it would appear to be moving through. It also identifies the time of solar conjunctions with bright stars.
South of the Analemma, and beyond the large circle of stones, are the Seven Sisters - seven stones, sculptured to represent seven female figures, which face each other in the form of a koru. In astronomy the Seven Sisters are the Pleiades star cluster. Thousands of years ago the rising of these stars marked the beginning of the year for the Greeks, Egyptians, and peoples of Asia.
Maori know these stars as Matariki and, for many tribes, the dawn rising of Matariki herald the beginning of the new year. To the south-west of the Seven Sisters there is a marker stone. Stand on this stone and the Sisters will show you where Matariki rises
WHO BUILT STONEHENGE AOTEAROA?
Approximately 150 members of the Phoenix Astronomical society were involved at one time or another in the building of Stonehenge Aotearoa.
However, there was a core group of enthusiasts that were there every weekend, rain or fine, throughout the period of construction. These are our “Beaker People” (from left to right): Graham Palmer, Chris Cahill, Alan Green, Geoffrey Dobson, Richard Hall (project manager) and Kay Leather (construction team manager).
Other members who made a considerable contribution to the project are our chief surveyor, Robert Adam (right) who put over 1000 hours at surveying and astronomical calculations into the design of Stonehenge Aotearoa; Lesley Hall, who organised the working bees; Katrina Leather and Chris Martin who were construction leaders during the main building phase .....
Richard Beavis (left)and Graham Palmer
...... and the late Richard Beavis who, towards the later stages of the project, was working on the Henge every weekend and often during the week. Of recent times sculptor and stonemason Pat McKenna joined the team. Many of the new structures at Stonehenge Aotearoa were designed and sculptured by him.
WHEN WAS IT BUILT?
Stonehenge Aotearoa took two years to build and was opened on Saturday February 12th, 2005, by Nobel Laureate and old Mastertonian Professor Alan MacDiarmid.
From left to right: Alan MacDiarmid, Lesley Hall, Richard Hall and Steve Thompson (CEO of the
Right: Professor Alan MacDiarmid opens Stonehenge Aotearoa
A WORK IN PROGRESS
Stonehenge Aotearoa is a work in progress. In addition to completing work on the anelemma plus tree, shrub and herb planting around the parameter we have plans to install additional stones and structures. These include marker stones for the “Saros” cycle of the Moon, the “Pillars of Heaven” and the “Gates of the Gods”, plus a Roman sundial and an orrery. Want to know what these are?
Better book to go on a tour of Stonehenge Aotearoa.
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