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SHARED WORLDS: revealing prehistoric shared worlds along Europe´s Atlantic Façade

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SHoW (SHARED WORLDS: revealing prehistoric shared worlds along Europe´s Atlantic Façade )

Reporting period: 2019-05-01 to 2021-04-30

This project’s (ShoW’s) archaeological and interpretive goals investigated the notions of a shared world and shared values found in European policy today and connects with concepts of shared cultural understanding. These policies consider how to increase understandings between people for the benefit of society and societal resilience. The ultimate goal of this project, then, was to ascertain which understandings and values were shared along the Europe’s Atlantic Façade in prehistory. Applying uniquely combined cultural indicators of monuments, landscapes, skylines, and astronomy, this project reviewed the time-transcending phenomenon of the hundreds of thousands of prehistoric stone monuments erected across Europe, where new constructions continued for more than 2000 years. It was found that people acted in some kind of concert, creating a shared understanding and reconfirmation of their World by using shared knowledge and beliefs about Heavenly Astronomical Cycles and notions linked to life and death. Shared affirmations such as these could be seen as the hope for a stable community in the future.
For beautiful photographs of megalithic landscapes & updates about entangled ideologies, things & Worlds connected to megaliths along the Atlantic Façade from the project SHoW – Shared Worlds, see https://gailhigginbottom.wixsite.com/mysite.#MSCActions #MSCA #HorizonEU #SHoW
Focusing on the greater Megalithic tradition (stone monuments) of Europe’s Atlantic Façade in the past in NW Iberia (c. 4500-2500 BC) and western Britain (3100-900 BC), this project, SHoW, investigated ways people drew their communities together with shared knowledge and beliefs and how these are reflected in the cultural landscapes they created. Cultural landscapes are ‘combined works of nature and humankind (https://whc.unesco.org/en/culturallandscape/)’ which humans value.
Using digital terrain models representing the physical shape of the real world, this project created 2D & 3D topographic models of views that can be seen from over 100 megalithic sites like tombs and standing stones, in Britain and Galicia. The models were layered with the paths of astronomical bodies as they would have been seen 1000s of years ago, standing at these very same monuments.
Through this achievement in 2D & 3D landscape modelling, it was possible to apply spatial analyses to carry out micro-locational and cross-locational comparisons as well as virtual reality modelling & interpretations using programmes like Stellarium. Stellarium is a virtual-reality video type software into which we could insert our monuments’ landscape models and watch prehistoric night skies in real time! Using all of these methods, SHoW has demonstrated that, on both sides of the Atlantic, Neolithic tombs within the same regions share particular landscape qualities that have been deliberately chosen, so too, standing stones of western Scotland. All these monuments share a cross-community desire to select very specific visual landscapes for their stone monuments that indicate their regional cultural emphases. The significance and depth of these differences were primarily illuminated by uncovering the connections between landscape form and astronomical phenomena, where the rising and setting of bodies like the Sun and the Moon, were connected to specific locations on the horizon as well as very particular horizon shapes. It seemed likely too, that these prehistoric people used cardinal points (like north & south) as a way to mark our their landscapes. In Galicia, the great majority of the tombs examined seem connected to seasonal markers that were likely linked to patterns of nature and resource acquisition, both wild & domestic, especially the milder times of the seasons. Yet standing stones seem primarily linked to the very first day of winter or summer and to major lunar events that could occur in any season (extreme rising and setting points in astronomical cycles, like the Sun at the solstices (annual cycle) and Moon (18.6-year cycle)). Where they overlap, however, is in the larger cosmological understandings of the Heavenly Cycles and conceptual notions linked to life and death.
Ultimately, the project has uncovered that the megalithic builders across space and time have shared a system of beliefs that links stones to death and life and the astronomical bodies that are seen to govern these things. Together, as a community, people act in some kind of concert to ensure that their understandings are constructed as objects for each other to observe, creating a shared understanding and reconfirming their World together. In these ways, people have created a connection to the past, their distant and recent ancestors, as well as working towards a stable community for the future, by reinforcing their connected knowledge and beliefs, and setting them in stone.
SHoW’s research in spatial landscape analyses, the importance and relevance of special landscapes and very particular astronomical phenomena has produced significant results and has been, and is in the process of being, published through several articles in scientific journals in the fields of archaeology, history of astronomy, & human cognition. These results, and interpretations about those people who created megalithic monuments, have also been presented at several scientific and public events. Revelations include notions of time, resource management, power of the dead & rituals. This project’s article in the Journal of World Prehistory is the most popular in this journal for all of 2020-21! Over 3,210 downloads! It explains that, on the Isle of Mull, Scotland, people combined standing stones, the land, the cremated dead & water ways. It shows how dramatic visual events were played out using a spectacular show based on light and darkness, manipulated through monument location, demonstrating the significance of the connection between the standing stones and the Sun to life, and a lack of connection, to death. Download it here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10963-020-09139-z. We await the first publication of results on the megalithic landscapes of Galicia from the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. In the meantime, here is the public preprint link to the paper: https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/y9xfg.
This project is interdisciplinary and its influence is such. Firstly, this research helps to restore the concept of astronomy & the night sky to its rightful place in the history of human kind. By en-actioning UNESCO’s Astronomy and World Heritage Thematic call to recognise that the way people watched the sky in the past is a repository for people’s perception of their world, this study has demonstrated the relevance of studying astronomy as part of larger archaeological cultural projects. We are now much closer to understanding the connection between megalithic monuments of the Neolithic and the Bronze Ages to Nature and the nuances between regions and across time. In particular, that past peoples had a long and intimate CONCEPTUAL RELATIONSHIP between themselves and their natural environment, and what this might have been, is now more in evidence. The outcome of this project is a significant step towards our knowledge of human behaviour, social resilience & stability and the things that were deemed important enough by most groups to consider together, namely, community, ancestors, resources, & the nature of the world that contained them.
Inserting Landscape model into Virtual Reality Stellarium. Lochbuie Stone Circle @ winter solstice1
Inserting Landscape model into Virtual Reality Stellarium. Lochbuie Stone Circle @ winter solstice2
Photographic Landscape Panorama of Stone Row Landscape at Ardnacross, Mull, Scotland
Photographic Landscape Panorama of Dolmen Armadoira, Galicia