When modern humans encounter structures that “predict” the “return” of the sun’s path on the equinoxes and solstices, structures which can be found around the planet, they respond with a flurry of questions as to how ancient people had such “magical knowledge ” of astronomy, and come up with bizarre explanations: In the extreme, “Ancient Aliens” are invoked as the “bringers” of high knowledge and technology to stupid humans. This dumbfounded reaction is furthered by the fact that most modern humans have no knowledge of the “how the universe works” nor experience with natural environments.
In addition, modern education is presented as “revealed knowledge” and is not a personal journey of discovery. Everything is gathered into books and publications; videos and films; collected, selected, edited in approved packages and presented as authoritative and complete, and presented by “authorities” in public schools and universities; in bookstores and online. Is it any wonder why modern people regard information as “given to the student” from an all-knowing source?
The assumption (totally incorrect) is that ancient people MUST HAVE HAD a priori knowledge, (like a book or supernatural access) of how the sun-earth-solar system relationship works, and that this complicated abstract astronomical knowledge is “built into” archaic architecture: that is, the architecture was intentionally (and had to be) pre-designed based on “modern” scientific knowledge of solar system physics. Obviously, this is not true!
The truly interesting question is, Why do these Sun Path circles appear in all parts of the globe where humans have settled? Did migrating humans “carry” this knowledge across the planet, information that had been “figured out” by an original “smart guy” tens of thousands of years ago? Would they then have been capable of calculating the adaptations and technology (architecture) to the “space geometry” of their specific location? And what would have been the motive for doing this before anyone had a need for such architecture-technology?
Or did the “knowledge” arise from a pan-earth physical reality that is easily, and even accidentally, derived wherever one lives on the planet? The first notion is absurd: the second is logical.
Note that wherever one is located on planet earth (except the N-S poles) any circle drawn on the ground is a “model” horizon that will be AUTOMATICALLY INTERSECTED by the sun’s rising and setting, not only on the solstices and equinoxes, but every day of the year – regardless of the reason for drawing or erecting that circle: a boundary line around a burial, a meeting place, a protective barrier for a base camp, etc. The entire setting and rising cycle of the sun could be observed over the course of one year. The highest point that the sun reaches in its arc across the sky each day is easily observed, and the visible “fact” that this changes with the progression of the cycle, produces a pattern. None of this requires pre-knowledge; rather, knowledge of the sun’s motion is the RESULT of simple observation. This does not require mathematics nor technology, beyond being able to draw a circle (easy – a stick and a string) A means of recording the position of the sun in the sky is a bit more work, but easily accomplished. A ring of stones of varying composition, shape or size (to indicate height above the horizon0, or wood posts of relative height placed around the circle would do just fine. This type of observation and pattern recognition would be simple for a visual thinker; a human who is embedded in nature and dependent on natural processes, and is therefore CURIOUS about what is going on in his or her environment.
As generations passed, consolidations, improvements and new observations would have changed the architecture – only “useful” or important events may have been “memorialized” in much more labor-intensive stone sites. Of course, the site would need to have be located on flat ground with a clear view of the horizon – ditches with raised banks and / or a raised mound, or an “artificial” mountain; a pyramid, would facilitate observation. What a group could achieve would depend on the size of the labor force and available materials.
Today, archaeologists reconstruct these “post-markers” of the sun’s position above the horizon as equal in height – a nice uniform design, but it would make more sense if the height, paint color, or other shape “described” the actual path of the sun.
Illustration above from atmo.arizona.edu
The seemingly magical property of structures to “predict” the solstices and equinoxes is INHERENT in physical phenomena that arise from the earth-sun relationship in space and time.
How does the location of sunrise and sunset change throughout the year?
Link to come:
The sun appears to rise on the eastern horizon and sets on the western horizon. How much does the location of the sun rising and setting change throughout the year and depending upon where your viewpoint is, i.e., true East, true West, etc.
Irrespective of where you are on the globe, the Sun will always rise exactly East and set exactly West on two days: March 21 and September 21 which are the two equinoxes.
As to the second part, it is a little complicated: Consider an arbitrary location on Earth (to make matters simple, consider a place in the northern hemisphere). Now, the celestial north pole (where the star Polaris resides) will be at an angle above the horizon and the angle is exactly equal to the latitude of the place. Imagine yourself facing Polaris (so that you are facing north exactly). Then East will be to your right and West will be to your left. Now, draw a circle which passes through East and West and whose plane is exactly perpendicular to the line joining you and Polaris. This circle marks the path of the Sun from dawn to dusk on the two equinoxes.
Now, draw a circle which is exactly parallel to the first circle, but which is separated from the first circle by 23.5 degrees at the zenith towards Polaris. This marks the path of the Sun during summer solstice and the place where this circle cuts the horizons will mark the place where the Sun will rise and set on the day of summer solstice. A similar circle which is separated from the first circle by 23.5 degrees at zenith towards south will mark the path of the Sun on winter solstice. Click here to see a diagram (broken link) illustrating this. The diagram shows the path of the Sun on the equinoxes and solstices at a latitude of 40 degrees north (the image is from “The Cosmic Perspective” by Bennet et al.).
Thus, the Sun will rise north of true East and set north of true West during summer whereas during winter, the Sun will rise south of true East and set south of true West.
The exact location where the Sun will rise and set will vary widely depending on the place. (latitude) Beyond the Arctic circle, there will be some times of the year where the Sun stays in the horizon for all 24 hours.
Notice first of all that the line separating day from night passes through the poles. That is how you know this is one of the equinoxes and not the summer or winter solstice.
1. The line separating day from night passes through the north and south poles. As the earth spins on its axis, a person standing anywhere on the globe will spend exactly half the day on the nighttime side of the picture and half the day on the daytime side of the picture. Thus the day and night are both 12 hours long. This is true everywhere except at the poles. We’ll see what happens at the poles later.
2. Imagine standing at the equator. At point A you are positioned in the middle of the nighttime side of the globe; it is midnight at Point A. 6 hours later you will be standing at Point B where you will move from night to day; this is sunrise. To see the sun you must look exactly back along one of the rays of light coming from the sun. You must turn and look straight east to do this. One the equinoxes, the sun will rise in the east (not just somewhere in the east but exactly due east). This only happens on the spring and fall equinox. The rest of the year the sun will rise south or north of east.
3. Six hours later you arrive at Point C; it is noon. Now to see the sun you must tilt your head and look straight overhead. The sun passes directly overhead at noon at the equator on the equinoxes.