The detailed survey carried out in July 2010 suggests the shape and orientation of the Gardom's Edge standing stone, somewhat reminiscent of a giant triangular fin sticking out of the ground, is unique and points towards an intentional astronomically alignment. Situated between the A621 and A619, east of Baslow, Derbyshire, Gardom's Edge, named after Thomas Gardom a mill owner from Calver, consists of a high plateau, a distinctive yet typical Peak District gritstone escarpment overlooking the Derwent valley below. Standing 2.2m (over six feet) high between the birch trees the standing stone consists of a local sandstone known as millstone grit, and appears to have been selected for its triangular shape, effectively acting as a gnomon, the triangular blade of a sundial.
The packing at the base on one side is indicative of a man made alignment. The stone is thought to still be in its original orientation when erected during the late Neolithic period, tilted southwards yet its north side is set at an angle equal to the maximum altitude of the sun at mid-summer. This alignment emphasizes the changing angle of the sun during the seasons in addition to indicating mid-summers day, thereby providing an impressive display of light and shadow on the north-facing side of the stone.
|Photo: Daniel Brown - Nottingham Trent University|
During the winter half of the year the stone's north facing side is in permanent shadow, and only after the equinox will the north side become partly illuminated during the mornings and evenings. Yet, as a a seasonal sundial the north facing side will always be illuminated during the entire day on mid-summers day, the summer solstice.
Considered in the context of the other monuments in the vicinity the standing stone would have represented an seasonal marker for the local communities. As such an astronomically aligned monolith, such as the Gardom's Edge standing stone, could be described as a seasonal sundial. However, the stone would not have been intended to mark local time during the day, rather the seasonal shadow cast by the stone would be used by local astronomer-priests presiding over dramatic ceremonies to display cosmological knowledge and even control over the death and rebirth of the sun.
The astronomical knowledge of seasonal shadow casting is well developed in prehistory but examples in the British Isles are quite rare, with only two possible other examples of intentional use of shadows associated with the period around 2,000 BC. Significantly, both are incorporated into burial monuments; it is noted that this incorporation of cyclic time into a burial monument is an important symbol representing eternity.
Patterns carved into the K1 kerbstone at Newgrange, County Meath, Ireland, follow seasonal shadow movements caused by standing stones in the great circle which are thought to indicate a calendar intention. Similarly, in the north-east of Scotland indications found on the standing stones surrounding some Clava cairns at Balnuaran of Clava, to the east of Inverness, Scotland, could have cast shadows onto the central cairn and act a seasonal calendar.
Single standing stones are rare in this area of Derbyshire. No doubt many have been dragged away over the years for use as gate posts or building materials. Generally single standing stones appear more widespread in western regions of the country. It is thought the Gardom's Edge standing stone is contemporary with the local rock art and erected during the establishment of late Neolithic - early Bronze Age ritual monuments that have been found across the Eastern Moors of the Peak District associated with periods of cultivation, providing an approximate date of erection of the stone between 2,500 –1,500 BC. Located approximately 90m north-west is a smaller stone, its relationship, if any, to the Gardom's Edge standing stone as yet undetermined.
A Neolithic Landscape
The Gardom's Edge standing stone is certainly somewhat of an oddity standing alone outside a Neolithic enclosure on the highest part of the shelf. Cutting off the escarpment at Gardom's Edge, is a stone-built, roughly D-shaped enclosure, discovered in the 1940s known as “Meg's Walls”. Defined by a rubble bank, up to 1.5m high and between 5 and 10m wide for over 600m in length, surviving only as a low earthwork at the southern end where it is cut through by post-medieval fields. This bank abounds one side of a large area at the crest of the edge, the other being the precipitous natural scarp. The interior is heavily boulder strewn and overlain by later cairns.
The large enclosure, constructed during the Neolithic period, is considered to be a form of 'causewayed enclosure', a type of monument fairly common in southern England but with few certain examples in the North. This massive stone enclosure is thought to be the first major monument to appear in the area and judging from the large numbers of Neolithic flint barbed-and-tanged arrowheads and polished axes discovered nearby almost certainly existed as a trading centre for the exchange of flint and other goods.
Located about 200m south of standing stone and some 10m outside of the enclosure wall is a fine example of British rock art. Accurate dating and interpretation of petroglyphs is notoriously difficult, if not impossible, but many are considered to date from the late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age period; considering the context of the Gardom's Edge site it is reasonable to assume that this example probably also dates from the same period. The petroglyph, discovered during the excavation of a large cairn, consists of a series of cup and ring marks together with a small spiral and two circles that enclose multiple cup marks carved on a large earthfast boulder, a replica can be seen in Sheffield City Museum. This is one of the finest examples of prehistoric rock art in Derbyshire but unfortunately due to weathering the original had to be reburied for its protection and a fibre glass replica now lies over it.
On the southern end of Gardom's edge stand three small cairns known as the "Three Men of Gardom's". These cone-shaped heaps of stone have been added to by climbers and walkers for years. Local lore claims they were built as memorials to three shepherds, or three drunken priests, who lost their way in the snow and perished on the moor. However, these cairns were built on the foundations of a much older prehistoric barrow, consisting of a low, circular mound composed of rounded gritstone boulders, typical of many Late Neolithic - Early Bronze Age period barrows found in the Peak District. The Three Men of Gardom's are the only burial mounds found within the Meg's Walls enclosure; considered with the spectacular view over Baslow and the River Wye this must have been a very special place 4,000 years ago.
Evidence stacks up that monolith at Gardom’s Edge is astronomically aligned - Royal Astronomical Society 27 March 2012
A Possible Astronomically Aligned Monolith At Gardom's Edge - Daniel Brown, Andy Alder, Elizabeth Bemand [PDF]
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