Stone Circles That Predate Stonehenge by 500 Years Align With Sun, Moon

Callanish standing stone circle, Callanish, Isle of Lewis, Scotland, UK. . Swen Stroop/Shutterstock

The strange and ancient stone circles that stand on the British Isle have always been a bit of a mystery. Exactly why were these circles erected, and what was the thinking or belief system that dictated their layout?

Researchers from Australia have finally answered a few key questions about the stone monuments called "great circles," including the intent behind their positioning.

"Nobody before this has ever statistically determined that a single stone circle was constructed with astronomical phenomena in mind — it was all supposition," says project leader Gail Higginbottom from the University of Adelaide in a press release. "This research is finally proof that the ancient Britons connected Earth to the sky with their earliest standing stones, and that this practice continued in the same way for 2000 years."

The researchers looked at several of the great circles, using 2-D and 3-D technology to run quantitative tests about their alignment. Their research is published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

The Callanish Stones in Scotland (pictured here), as well as the Standing Stones of Stenness are both older than Stonehenge by about 500 years. Their layout takes into account the position of the sun and moon at different phases as well as their relation to the horizon in different geographic locations.

The scientists' findings show that these ancient circles were crafted based on a calculated understanding of celestial movement, and reveal that the ancient people who built them had a deep investment in the relationship of the Earth with the sun and moon.