The summer and winter solstices are barely noticeable for people living in the tropics, but they are important seasonal markers for those father north, and have been since humans started keeping track of the days of the year. For ancient farmers in Britain, which has a dearth of warm sunny days in the best years, the seasons were so important that around 2500 BC, they designed Stonehenge to align precisely with the summer and winter solstices.
Standing in the centre of the monument on midsummer’s day, the longest day of the year, the sun rises just to the left of the outlying Heel Stone to the north-east and the first rays of the day shine into the heart of Stonehenge. Archaeological excavations have found a large stone hole to the left of the Heel Stone and it may have held a partner stone, the two stones framing the sunrise. The long shadow of the Heel Stone, the largest stone on the site, also extends right into the middle of the stone circle.
The exact opposite happens in the winter, as the solstice sun sets on the exact opposite side of Stonehenge, in the slot formed by three stones- except one of the stones has fallen. We don't know much about the actual building of Stonehenge or what those ancient folk did at the site, but in recent years neo-Druids and people of other pagan religions gather there for the summer solstice sunrise, which is Tuesday. Read a rundown of how the solstice works at Stonehenge at the British museum blog. -via Strange Company
(Image credit: Simon Wakefield)