Restoring Stonehenge to its sky

Posted by fi17 at Nov 29, 2011 01:05 PM |
University academic argues for keeping iconic monument in the dark in a feature on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme.
Restoring Stonehenge to its sky

Image:Wikimedia Commons

Should Stonehenge be lit at night, for the benefit of passing tourists? Emeritus Professor Clive Ruggles of our School of Archaeology and Ancient History says no. The monument pre-dates lighting, light pollution and even light bulbs, and its natural nocturnal home is against a pitch black sky scattered with stars, planets and the Milky Way.

The debate has raged in the letters pages of The Times, and today Professor Ruggles was invited to contribute to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme to debate the issue with Lady Mimi Pakenham. Lady Pakenham has written in favour of subtly lighting the monument at night.

In 1999 Professor Ruggles was appointed as the world’s first Professor of Archaeoastronomy: studying the relationships between the sky and ancient monuments, and the importance of the sky, stars and other phenomena to the cultures of historic communities. He is President of the Inter-Union Commission on the History of Astronomy, former President of the Prehistoric Society, Chair of the International Astronomical Union Working Group on Astronomy and World Heritage and sits on the Council of the International Society for Archaeoastronomy and Astronomy in Culture (ISAAC)

He argues that part of the experience of a monument like Stonehenge is seeing it in the dark, as it would have been viewed thousands of years ago by the people who built it. Efforts have been made in recent years to restore Stonehenge to its former glory, and part of that process is restoring the monument to its original, unlit sky.

In a time when the lights are always on, that little patch of darkness could provide a window into the starlit past.

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