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Science

Aboriginal Sundial Pre-Dates Stonehenge 145

Posted by samzenpus
from the back-in-the-day dept.
brindafella writes "Look out, Stonehenge, here come the Wurdi Youang rocks in the Australian state of Victoria. The semi-circle of stones has been examined by an astrophysicist from Australia's premier research group, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), who says this arrangement of rocks is a carefully aligned solar observatory that may be 10,000 years old. It would have been created by local Aborigines, the Wathaurong people, who have occupied the area for some 25,000 years."
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Aboriginal Sundial Pre-Dates Stonehenge

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  • Sloppy Half-circle (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JumperCable (673155) on Monday February 07, 2011 @06:07AM (#35124452)

    It doesn't look like much from the picture. The only supporting statement in the article is:

    its two points set in perfect alignment with the setting sun on a midsummer's day.

    I'd like a little more supporting documentation before getting all excited about this.

    • by Mbraz (1804942)
      OK, sou you expect that after 25,000 years the stone clock would be in perfect state, to prove for you that the circle was indeed, a circle.
      • by dwarfsoft (461760)

        Last time I checked a sundial didn't have the point rotate around an entire circle. The sun cuts a semicircular path across the sky.

    • by Cimexus (1355033) on Monday February 07, 2011 @06:17AM (#35124502)

      Well I agree it doesn't look like much, but then again it's 10,000 years old. That's much older than most other such remnants in the world. Either way, it's definitely not natural. Humans did this. The question is: for what purpose?

      If it does align perfectly on the with the sun on the solstices, then this becomes very interesting. The likelihood that humans happened to place the rocks on that exact alignment by pure chance (as opposed to any other random alignment) is small.

      If on the other hand the alignment isn't really very significant from a solar/stellar perspective it's probably just some ancient place marker or something instead. Still interesting, mind you, but nothing globally unique.

      • by TeXMaster (593524) on Monday February 07, 2011 @07:02AM (#35124680)

        Well I agree it doesn't look like much, but then again it's 10,000 years old. That's much older than most other such remnants in the world. Either way, it's definitely not natural. Humans did this. The question is: for what purpose?

        If it does align perfectly on the with the sun on the solstices, then this becomes very interesting. The likelihood that humans happened to place the rocks on that exact alignment by pure chance (as opposed to any other random alignment) is small.

        Was the alignment correct 10k years ago? Don't the precessions influence the relative position of the sun and Earth in a way that would be significant after 10k years, meaning that something on Earth aligned with a specific Sun position at a specific time of the year now would not be valid 10k years ago, and conversely?

        • by xclr8r (658786)
          Precession, nutation, and polar motion.
        • Over a 21,000 year period summer and winter swap over ....so over a long enough period any randomly positioned stones would line up at some time ?

        • by TRS80NT (695421)
          That's what I was thinking. Didn't we all just get our sun signs reassigned?
          Or something.
        • by mangu (126918) on Monday February 07, 2011 @11:25AM (#35126422)

          Don't the precessions influence the relative position of the sun and Earth in a way that would be significant after 10k years, meaning that something on Earth aligned with a specific Sun position at a specific time of the year now would not be valid 10k years ago, and conversely?

          Yes, but that only changes the positions relative to the stars. Precession means the rotation axis of the earth changes the way it points, but the axis is the same. North is always the same direction, apart from a relatively small polar motion.

          • by TeXMaster (593524)

            Don't the precessions influence the relative position of the sun and Earth in a way that would be significant after 10k years, meaning that something on Earth aligned with a specific Sun position at a specific time of the year now would not be valid 10k years ago, and conversely?

            Yes, but that only changes the positions relative to the stars. Precession means the rotation axis of the earth changes the way it points, but the axis is the same. North is always the same direction, apart from a relatively small polar motion.

            There is also a precession of the orbit of the Earth around the Sun, such that the path over long periods of time looks more like the petals of a flower than the same ellipse being run over and over again. I suspect that would alter the alignment of Earth-based object with respect to the Sun at specific times of the year. I'm not sure though.

      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by lul_wat (1623489)

        Either way, it's definitely not natural. Humans did this. The question is: for what purpose?

        Helps to figure out if it's dole office is open yet

      • by Chapter80 (926879)

        Well I agree it doesn't look like much, but then again it's 10,000 years old. That's much older than most other such remnants in the world. Either way, it's definitely not natural. Humans did this.

        How did you make the leap from "not natural" to "Humans did this"?

        Other animals? Aliens?

        • by gstoddart (321705) on Monday February 07, 2011 @10:36AM (#35125886) Homepage

          How did you make the leap from "not natural" to "Humans did this"?

          Because it's far less of a leap than "Other animals? Aliens?".

          To date, we haven't seen any evidence that 'other animals' have ever put together time-keeping measures ... and, well, the alien theory is more extraordinary than the notion that a people who have been there for at least 40,000 years did something like this 10,000 years ago.

          The most likely conclusion is that "not natural" means "Humans did this".

      • by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) on Monday February 07, 2011 @10:30AM (#35125818) Homepage Journal

        Only 10K? That's hardly 2/5s the time these folks have been local to the region. For them, this is a late, modern development. For European descendants it is an incredible antiquity.

        Interesting to think of these timelines, regarding common perception. Cleopatra lived and died closer in time to the era of Moon landings than she did to the building of the great pyramid at Giza.

        • Interesting to think of these timelines, regarding common perception. Cleopatra lived and died closer in time to the era of Moon landings than she did to the building of the great pyramid at Giza.

          Technologically that's not really the case. I think that may be the cause of this perception.

        • by osu-neko (2604)

          Interesting to think of these timelines, regarding common perception. Cleopatra lived and died closer in time to the era of Moon landings than she did to the building of the great pyramid at Giza.

          Is it really common perception to associate Cleopatra with the era of ancient pharaohs? She's most popularly known as an intimate part of the story of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, i.e. early AD. I would expect the mistake most people would make would be to think if she hadn't killed herself, she'd have been dragged back to Rome and been thrown to the lions along with some Christians (which, of course, would not be happening yet).

          • Yeah. Late BC, actually.

            The Caesar of the Bible is Tiberius, stepson of Augustus - himself the nephew of Julius.

            I think it common for people to not reflect on the incredible span of Egypt from Dynasty I through Ptolomy.

            Of course many are unaware that we live closer to the time of James Tiberius Kirk than...

      • by Moraelin (679338) on Monday February 07, 2011 @10:44AM (#35125976) Journal

        TBH I don't understand what's so incredible. I mean, it's interesting as history information, but it's not like it's some great knowledge. Humans 10,000 years ago were already the modern humans, and probably just as smart as most people here.

        As I was saying in another post, there is a very simple way of marking where the sun sets for the solstices, because they're the extreme points left and right. Just moving a stone each evening until you found the rightmost point the sun sets, and a different stone for leftmost, will get you those two points pretty well. The third point is simply the middle of the segment, and something that you can measure even with your feet.

        The whole thing is perfectly within the range of things human could figure out 10,000 or even 100,000 years ago.

        They don't even have to understand such things as solstice or equinox. Pretty much you just need someone to figure out "hey, didn't the sun set behind the other bush some time ago?" And from there, if you're bored and have a year or two to look where it sets, you can mark pretty well how far north and how far south can the sun set.

        • The question isn't how they did it, that much is obvious. The question is, why they bothered? What was the intended purpose of the tool?

          • by Moraelin (679338)

            Curiosity? They were human after all, and it really isn't much more effort than a couple of minutes a day at sunset.

            Some kind of sun cult? It tends to be a major spirit for people.

          • by Gilmoure (18428)

            Probably the kids: Are to spring yet? How much longer. I'm bored. He's on my side!

          • So they can tell when in the year they're at.

            That's very useful for planting and floods and whatnot. You can't figure out when to do stuff if you don't know when you are.

            The only other option is to just count days, and that's very hard, and even harder when you haven't invented useful numbers or place values yet. Back then, they'd have numbers from one to twenty or whatever, and that was essentially it. If they were lucky they could count moons, but the moons do not divide evenly into the year so that doesn't work well.

            But once they notice that shadows move back and forth, they can do what the GP said, stick up a pole and mark the summer and winter solstice with essential no work at all, and then mark 10 rocks across or something. And they could just look at it, and figure out that, despite it being cooler already, they shouldn't plant yet, it just got cooler early this year, and it's still 'five rocks' or whatever to solstice, and they're supposed to plant at four. (Or even put some sort of carved symbol at exactly the right place that means 'plant'.)

            • by Moraelin (679338)

              TBH, I very much doubt that they had agriculture yet, so that's probably not it. Still, I suppose it's also good for tracking when the next bird migration or whatever happens.

    • by Chrisq (894406)
      By looking at the picture consists or a complete circle of stones, almost touching. Inevitably some of them will be in "perfect alignment with the setting sun on a midsummer's day", as will some of the bricks in my house.
      • by aug24 (38229)
        It's not a complete circle. There are a few over on bottom right of the picture, but they are only 'almost touching' around the top left. It's the ends of the closely packed stones that form a chord which is aligned with the midsummer sun. Seems unlikely to be chance.
        • I wonder if they remembered to correct for precession of the equinox.

          • by osu-neko (2604)

            I wonder if they remembered to correct for precession of the equinox.

            I wonder if you know what that is. If you think precession impacts where the sun appears to be relatively to stones on the ground on the solstice, you either don't understand what precession is or don't understand what a solstice is.

            For anyone who doesn't -- precession of the equinoxes is a phenomenon which causes the sun to move, relative to the background stars, over a long period of time, such that it'll be in a different constellation on the vernal equinox than it was thousands of years previous or wil

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 07, 2011 @06:40AM (#35124594)

      For those of you who would actually read TFA if it were available:

      N258: Wurdi Youang: An Australian Aboriginal Stone Circle with possible solar indications.
      Ray P. Norris, Priscilla M. Norris, Duane W. Hamacher, and John Morieson , 2010, To be submitted to Archaeoastronomy Journal

      From the Authors webpage:
      http://www.atnf.csiro.au/people/rnorris/

    • Looks more like a left over set from the original Max Max movie, which was made in the same area. Hard to believe that rocks will just sit in the same place for 10000 years. This whole area has been pretty much gone over. There are plenty of farms in the area. Its really just outside Melbourne. Hardly outback.

      • by somersault (912633) on Monday February 07, 2011 @07:31AM (#35124784) Homepage Journal

        Hard to believe that rocks will just sit in the same place for 10000 years

        I found this hard to believe at first too. I've been sitting watching this rock for over 25 years now though, and no sign of movement on the micrometer. I'm starting to have my doubts.

        • I am curious to see how you get on. Be sure to get back to me in another 25 years with your observations.

        • by mangu (126918)

          YMMV, but I've been watching these stones [rollingstones.com] for fifty years and they move around quite a lot.

        • by fbjon (692006)
          Try these. [wikipedia.org]
          • I call bullpickles. These rocks have not been moving under their own power, but have been driven by high winds over a low friction substrate. A very specific arrangement, and not one that Dwayne is subject to.

            • by GooberToo (74388) on Monday February 07, 2011 @11:37AM (#35126550)

              For what its worth, I saw a documentary on these rocks many a year ago. They attempted to move a rock using fx- fans, which basically created winds of a small hurricane. They were completely unable to move a single rock. Furthermore, such winds are completely undocumented for the region. Not to mention, most agree such winds, in moving the rock, would sandblast the trail, obliterating it.

              Realistically, these rocks are a scientific mystery. Some have suggested the rocks are in fact NOT moving and that its an illusion created by its tail. Along these lines, some scientist say we should be looking for alternate explanations of how the tail (the trail) is created rather than focusing on what appears to be moving rocks.

              • by DavidTC (10147)

                Yeah, and the same problem exists with the 'maybe it only happens when it's wet' hypothesis. Yeah, that might need less wind...OTOH, it would also need much less wind to erase the tracks.

                There's not any way at all wind can move 100 pound things along the ground, but leave two little ridges down the trail where the sand was pushed away. Not to mention failing to smooth the other sand, around the rock.

                No one's actually measured them moving, have they?

                Of course, the theory that the trails are caused by some

          • by ginbot462 (626023)

            I forgot about those! Thanks. It one of those things that seems simple at first glance , but when you bring your full attention upon it you go WTF? The devil is in the details.

          • by ginbot462 (626023)

            BTW, Don't listen to those that say it's wind and ice. We're living in a simulation, and when They upgrade the terrain sometimes algorithms that place these stones move these. What happens is, that is a place where two tiles meet and rounding errors get pretty bad there. They says They know about it, but is low probability of it getting fixed. Personally, I agree .. They need to fix the AI first and foremost. Some of the people ... jeez louise, especially there mob/crowd estimation/approximation algos.

      • Visit the island of Gozo, near Malta, and prepare to have your credulity stretched beyond breaking point.
    • It's not even really a sundial, as it doesn't actually tell the time. Not the least because it's facing West instead of South. So, you know, it would require a Sun that moves from North to South or viceversa instead of East to West, to tell you the hour.

      What it is argued that it does is basically track the two extreme points where the sun sets, and the middle of that interval.

      It's actually something pretty trivial to do. All you need is about a year and some movable stone. Each evening you stand in the desi

      • by jittles (1613415)
        This is the southern hemisphere, so wouldn't you want the stones to face north and not south?
    • by idji (984038)
      Here is an Interview and Transcript [abc.net.au] with Duane Hamacher [academia.edu], the astroarcheologist who wrote his thesis "On the Cultural Astronomy of Aboriginal Australia".
    • by fractoid (1076465)

      It doesn't look like much from the picture. The only supporting statement in the article is:

      its two points set in perfect alignment with the setting sun on a midsummer's day.

      I'd like a little more supporting documentation before getting all excited about this.

      Exactly. "Carefully aligned solar observatory"? I'd accept 'sundial' maybe but all it implies is that they had some idea of when the "middle of summer" was (not surprising for nomadic gatherers) and some concept of "where the sun sets".

  • by Anonymous Coward

    So what. It's not like you can take either one of them with you. The real question is: which watch do chicks dig better!

  • After all, there's so much more sun there than in Wiltshire.
    • It is pissing it down from dark clouds this very moment, which admittedly is a change from snow and hail, and all I can say is, you insensitive clod.
      • by 19061969 (939279)
        Never mind though. As the rhyme goes: "Oi can't read and Oi can't write, But it don't really matter, 'Coz I come from the West Country, And I can drive a tractor...."
  • by lilo_booter (649045) on Monday February 07, 2011 @06:45AM (#35124606)
    There are older stone circles in the UK than Stonehenge. The stone circles in Orkney predate Stonehenge for example, though admittedly not by as much as those claimed here.
    • Yeah but Stonehenge is open source.
    • In fact, Stonehenge is notable for being recent -- it was the pinnacle of the great stone monuments, one of the last and certainly the most monumental. Comparing a potential "first" to a recognised "last" is a bit disengenuous.

  • by Random Data (538955) on Monday February 07, 2011 @06:46AM (#35124608)
    Linky here [csiro.au]
  • Is there an archeologist in the house? Couldn't I just dig up some old rocks, and arrange them in any shape that I liked? I'm just wondering if this is the equivalent of "crop circles" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crop_circles [wikipedia.org] in England?

    Yikes! From the Wikipedia article:

    In 2009, BBC News reported that Lara Giddings, the attorney general for the island state of Tasmania, stated that Australian wallabies had been found creating crop circles in fields of poppies after consuming some of the opiate-laden crop and running in circles.

    So, maybe Australian junkie wallabies constructed the stone structure?

    What also puzzles me, is why cultures that create such structures, just kinda sorta die out? Like the Egyptians who built pyramids, whoever built Stonehenge, and th

    • by aiht (1017790) on Monday February 07, 2011 @07:13AM (#35124714)

      What also puzzles me, is why cultures that create such structures, just kinda sorta die out? Like the Egyptians who built pyramids, whoever built Stonehenge, and the like?

      Answer: All cultures die out over this kind of time span. But for some reason, we just don't pay any attention to the ones that leave no evidence of ever having existed...

    • What also puzzles me, is why cultures that create such structures, just kinda sorta die out?

      Maybe its because cultures just sorta die out.

    • by Dr La (1342733)
      How they dated it, indeed is the big question. These kind of things are notoriously difficult to date. If there is charcoal, bone or pottery in the pits used to socket the stones, you can date it (and then you still assume the materials in the pit date to the time of digging the pit, which is a dangerous assumption), but otherwise it is almost impossible. 26Al or 10Be dating of the stones itself will bring you no further either, as the surface residence of these stones can significantly predate their incorp
    • "What also puzzles me, is why cultures that create such structures, just kinda sorta die out? Like the Egyptians who built pyramids, whoever built Stonehenge, and the like?"

      Every culture (well, there might be one or two exceptions, I don't know), at least most, die out once enough time passes, for a variety of reasons.

      Look at the Egyptians first the Greeks conquered them, and started intermarrying with them and influencing/changing their cultures, then the Romans, then eventually, the Arab Muslims from the

      • by gknoy (899301)

        The only one I think I could point to as having not done that (yet) is China. It's a cultural juggernaut.

        • by aiht (1017790)

          The only one I think I could point to as having not done that (yet) is China. It's a cultural juggernaut.

          And that's a particularly interesting example, because of the large number of cultures lumped together into the Chinese empire. Do people in China still think of themselves as culturally (e.g.) Han, Zhuang, Manchu, or just "Chinese"?

          (Names taken from here [wikipedia.org].)

  • by kmdrtako (1971832) on Monday February 07, 2011 @07:07AM (#35124696)

    Try 75,000 years old, in Africa.

    http://www.adamscalendar.com/pages/michael-tellinger.php [adamscalendar.com]

    Well, the guy might be a bit of a loon. Apparently he believes in little green men in flying saucers too, but the stone circle is apparently real.

    • by arisvega (1414195)

      Well, the guy might be a bit of a loon.

      Agreed that he, as you point out, might be. The issue with such of authors is that they usually get arguments out of their asses, tailored to support their theories and mostly circumventing scientific methods. Not that I mind, but it makes them all more difficult to be taken seriously.

      More specific- how does one determine the age of such things? 75.000 is too paradigm shifty to get away with not explaining it enough. As I understand it, egyptologists still have lots of trouble getting accurate answers on si

    • There was a special on National Geographic about using dna to study the movement of people in early history of mankind. They stated that the Aboriginals in Australia are the second oldest people. They had a hard time explaining how the people made it from Africa to Australia. They certainly did not sail across the Indian Ocean about 40,000 years ago so they would have had to travel along the coast line. But even doing that they would have had to cross many rivers and when they got to Sumatra they would
  • What's that you say?

    Its location is a closely guarded secret.

    Then that's not science, it's a bullshit claim by one guy who for all we know throw down some rocks in his back yard and took a picture of them. [citation needed]

    • by Chrisq (894406) on Monday February 07, 2011 @07:18AM (#35124738)

      What's that you say?

      Its location is a closely guarded secret.

      Then that's not science, it's a bullshit claim by one guy who for all we know throw down some rocks in his back yard and took a picture of them. [citation needed]

      In other words an outcrop circle.

    • Can't be that hard to find. Its right beside the road from Geelong to Bacchus Marsh [google.com].

    • by gknoy (899301)

      If one had found a stone circle that you thought was Really Old and deserved investigating, I could see the merits of trying to minimize the location's publicity. The less people that walk in and take stones, or move them, or otherwise mess with it, the better. (That doesn't mean it can't be an outcrop circle, as Chrisq said. ;))

    • by pclminion (145572)
      The location of the largest trees in the United States (they are somewhere in the groves of the Redwoods in northern California) is kept secret by the arborists and other researchers who study them. It's not unprecedented, when you have only a single piece of evidence, to do something to protect it from vandals and psychopaths.
  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Monday February 07, 2011 @07:28AM (#35124772) Homepage Journal

    If anybody is interested there is a spot in Lysterfield Lake Park [google.com] which seems to have been used for aboriginal ceremonies of some sort. The first time I found it they had firewood stacked up and wood for a little shelter. There were strange little piles of stones. Its on bare stone right at the top of a hill and quite close to the Boys Farm track. Since I was first there it has been cleared out by a fire. One time at that location a really big kangaroo came out of the bush at me, hopped past and disappeared. Obviously felt that it owned the place and I didn't.

    • by Twisted64 (837490)
      I highly doubt that strange little piles of stones would have lasted even a few years, considering the number of mountain bikers going off the path in that area :)
  • It's famous, but it's hardly a yardstick for antiquity.

    Newgrange in Ireland is older than Stonehenge in England and the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.

    But 10,000 years old? The Aborigines seem to have them all well and truly beaten.

  • Coincidence? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Dahlgil (631022)
    The article says this is also called the Mount Rothwell site. There is also an odd similarity with the appearance of the ground and rocks with those in New Mexico. Is anyone seeing the connection? Could I be on to something?
  • Older than Stonhenge (Score:4, Informative)

    by stiggle (649614) on Monday February 07, 2011 @08:45AM (#35125074)

    This is nothing special or new - there are loads of stone circles and other landscape features which pre-date stonehenge and are astronomically aligned. Stonehenge isn't even the best stone circle in the area.

    If you want to get up close to the stones and see a proper ancient landscape then head up to Avebury instead.
    You have the village inside the huge circle, the other circles, the avenues, Silbury Hill, the Kennet Long Barrows, The Sanctuary.
    All together Avebury is a much better AND cheaper stone circle complex to visit than stonehenge.

  • Why does that number get thrown around a lot? It's nice and round I suppose. If you're trying not to offend fundamentalists you'd really want to go with 6,000 years ago so is 10,000 a compromise of some sort?

  • The two web-articles give no clue how they arrived at the 10,000 year bp date. Has the structure been radiometrically dated in some way? Or is it just a wild guess?

    As others already commented, even in Europe there are megalith sites with possible sun/moon allignments that are older than Stonehenge, b.t.w.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I thought standing stones were primarily of use to agrarian societies; for planning when to plant seasonal crops and such. Probably the most impressive thing about indigenous Australian technology is the woomera, a rigid sling for hurling spears. Given that European explorers (Cook's crew) didn't find evidence of cultivation,it's hardly likely they were spearing maize. My personal (uninformed) opinion is that it was likely a technological leap that didn't quite take off. Clever scientist types of the da

  • by Dputiger (561114)
    This semicircle of rocks would be far more interesting / culturally significant if there as an actual reason to see it as such. Stonehenge (and the other henges known to exist) were typically significant, large-scale endeavors that were years in the making. According to the linked articles, this is a few waist high rocks with some smaller, relatively easy to move outliers. I'm not disputing that it may be a sundial but I'd like to know more about the culture of the tribe(s) that've lived there and whether
  • Its location is a closely guarded secret.

    Dear Anonymous,
    Who cares about government scandals. We wanna see this place! I expect gps coordinates within the week.
    Love, someone who is definitely not your leader or anything...

    So nice of you to come over, Mr FBI investigator...

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