A recent publication in British Archaeology reports that nine megaliths in Dartmoor, England, which have features similar to Stonehenge, may be able to shed light on the nature of these massive stone structures. The Dartmoor megaliths, which may be older than Stonehenge, were recently carbon dated to roughly 3500 BC. Both the Dartmoor stones and the ring at Stonehenge are aligned to mark the rising of the midsummer sun and the setting of the midwinter sun.
An expert on British megaliths, Mike Pitts, says that the solar orientation of the stones does not necessarily mean that the sites’ builders were sun worshippers. “The general feeling is that the sun was symbolizing or marking the occasion, rather than being the ritual focus itself, so it probably was not sun worship.” The occasion for the ritual may instead have been linked to death rites. The “solstice alignment phenomenon perhaps has something to do with death,” Pitts said. “At Stonehenge, the dark navy-colored bluestones may themselves represent ancestors or spirits from the underworld, while the big orangey-pink sarsens could reflect summer and light.”
The stones at Dartmoor were toppled over when they were discovered, which allowed researchers the rare opportunity of carbon dating the peat both above and below the stones.