O'Brien examines a "station" at Littlebury, Essex,
one of several linking Wandlebury with Hatfield Forest.
Who built the megalithic structures?
is certain there was no indigenous culture in
Britain nearly 5000 years ago capable of building
Stonehenge, Avebury, and other monuments. So who
did build them?
Who Built Them
the Gogmagog Hills, just four miles south-east of Cambridge
there stands an ancient and colossal earthworks called Wandlebury
Fort. Shrouded in mystery and now shaded by a canopy of trees,
this most eerie place is a popular summer-time picnic area.
Few people munching their sandwiches on a balmy afternoon pause
to wonder why a group of men toiled countless years ago to create
the great mound; fewer still know of the old legend.
to Wandlebury on Midsummer Night, if you dare, and in a loud
voice exclaim: Knight to knight come forth!
A knight in shining armour will then ride out on his snorting
charger and do battle with you. The story was taken so seriously
in mediaeval times that the nearby university proctors forbade
students from going to the Wandlebury site at summer solstice.
there are ghosts anywhere in the kingdom, Wandlebury is the
place is the place for them. Spirits of many a crippled warrior
should glide between the trees, as they have since Roman soldiers
trudged along the Icknield Way close by. The earthworks, called
a fort, would have been used by the ancient Iceni
people to command the high ground there. But long before even
that distant time, when men were scraping fish with flint tools,
there existed a group of people whose skills and knowledge were
not equalled for thousands of years.
history of Wandlebury earthworks, according to new evidence,
spans not 20 centuries, but 50, and its original purpose was
not military, but scientific.
For the past five years, Tim OBrien, retired head of an
international oil consortium, has devoted himself to researching
the monuments mysteries. During this period, he has fed
masses of data into a computer, and, after groping through the
mountains of statistics gushing from it, he says he can tell
us why the mound was built and, amazingly, he is pretty
sure he knows who supervised the building of it 5,000
site seen from a low aerial view.
says OBrien, was built at roughly the same time as Avebury,
the early part of Stonehenge, and hundreds of other ancient
stone circles around the country. A lack of local stone near
Cambridge obliged the builders to use mud instead. As with the
other monuments, the builders were able to plot and predict
the exact movements of the sun, moon and stars through the heavens.
that was not all. OBrien has stumbled upon evidence which
indicates that the builders of Wandlebury, and other nearby
earthworks, knew that the Earth was a sphere. Nearly 5,000 years
before photographs of the Earth taken from space finally quietened
the Flat Earth Society, these people knew that the Earth was
round. They even knew, to within one per cent., the circumference
of the world.
OBrien, at 64, is an unlikely scholar, though he studied
natural sciences, physics and geology at Christs College,
Cambridge. He was, until his retirement a few years ago, managing
director and chairman of the boards of Iranian Oil Operating
Companies. As head of this consortium, he had to advise the
Shah and it was while he was in Iran that he developed a passion
for archaeology. This new interest, coupled with his formidable
mathematical brain, gave him a unique set of tools for solving
the Wandlebury earth-works enigma.
recently published a detailed paper on his findings with the
awesome title An Integrated Astronomical Complex of Earthworks
at Wandlebury and Hatfield Forest from the Third Millenium BC.
research a subject requiring so much arduous on-site investigation,
you need enormous reserves of energy and have be 100 per cent.
Fit. Some of the locations which had to be visited would have
daunted much younger men, but not the inexhaustible Mr OBrien.
got to keep your legs in order, he announced, dismounting
the exercise bike standing beside the vast desk in his office
(a converted stable in the garden). Then, with no hint of breathlessness,
he pulled on a pair of stout boots, and prepared to stride out
into the country.
and his wife Joy who writes poetry live in Thaxted, Essex, and
their interest in East Anglian monuments began when, a few years
ago, they attended a lecture in London about Ley Lines, said
by the late Alfred Watkins to have been surveyed in prehistoric
times. These lines were thought to be straight tracks connecting
landmarks like hilltops, ponds, and even church steeples.
had always been fascinated by enigmas and ancient history, and
after that lecture, we spent months studying the so-called Ley
Lines, said Mr OBrien. At the end of our study
we had agreed that most of the lines were random. They may have
appeared straight on a small-scale map, but on a larger scale
they were not so convincing. We did obtain remarkable results
when joining Wandlebury, through the gaps in its banks, to other
known ancient landmarks, but ultimately we decided that they,
too, were random
all except one.
chance discovery of one straight line inspired the OBriens
to follow through with a detailed study of Wandlebury, and their
discoveries now demand a complete reappraisal of the ancient
history of East Anglia.
line of great significance linked to Wandlebury with Hatfield
Forest to the south, site of another great earthworks which
they have now studied. Between the two earthworks the line passed
through several well-known stone and earth landmarks in Essex.
of the rocks, though clearly shaped by hand, have long stared
archaeologists in the face. As if mocking us, the stones have
defied explanation for years, and no one has made a detailed
study of them.
on the OBriens line, for instance, is Littlebury
Ring, another earthworks, close to Newport, near Saffron Walden.
The line also passes through the Uttlesford Mutlow, an ancient
local meeting place, Eight Wantz Ways, a forest clearing, and
a massive stone beside the A11 road at Shortgrove, near Newport,
known locally as the Leper Stone. There is no evidence of a
leper colony ever existing nearby. OBrien calls the stone
the Shortgrove Monolith.
OBriens amazement, a close survey of his line (he
calls it Line A), showed that it was not quite straight. It
was, in fact, a perfect loxodrome. That is to say that wherever
a person stood on the line between Wandlebury and another stone
(the Priory Stone) at Hatfield Broad Oak, the North Star would
always be at the same oblique angle.
by little, OBrien began to put the jigsaw together. There
were too many coincidences for Line A to have been
a random chance. The Shortgrove Monolith, for instance, was
not just about halfway between Wandlebury and Hatfield
it was halfway within an inch or two!
his wife, he set off across country to look for more landmarks.
According to his calculations (by using a lowest common denominator)
there should have been 26 markers alone the line. These markers
(he calls them stations) should have been at 1,430
metres intervals, and this distance (his megalithic mile) relates
exactly to calculations by other experts of prehistoric units
the 26 stations which we think originally existed along Line
A, we found evidence of 11 in exactly the right place. There
were also several of the distinctively shaped stones near the
line, which were probably moved by farmers years ago because
they impeded agriculture, said OBrien. There is
evidence in local records offices of at least one such
estimated that the chances of so many markers being in the right
place by pure chance was many millions to one.
in a straight line from Wandlebury to the lake, linked several
well known Essex landmarks, including those at Newport,
Shortgrove, Great Chesterford and Littlebury.
OBrien delved deeper into the subject, he was constantly
reminded of the ancient scientists accuracy. They would have
had only primitive equipment with which to do the work, such
as plumb lines, artificial water horizons (needed to give astronomers
a level plane from which to make eye-level observations of the
rising sun), trestles and lines, yet they achieved amazing results.
that his Line A was not coincidence, OBrien turned his
attention to the earthworks site itself. This began with a meticulous
study of Wandlebury which he estimated would have taken 600
men at least 130 days to build. This archaic highway, incidentally,
connected Kings Lynn with the ancient Ridgeway Path, straddling
England and passing close to Avebury, Stonehenge and Silbury
Hill (Europes largest manmade monument).
survey showed that Wandlebury carved a perfect circle through
the hill, save a corneal bump at one side. A plan looks like
established view, endorsed by the Cambridge University Department
of Archaeology and Anthropology, is that the mound was an Iceni
fort, and certainly it could have been used for military purposes
at some stage of its history. However, OBrien believes
that the accuracy of the circle is significant here. Warriors
toiling for months to construct so massive a monument would
have been disinclined to clutter their military minds with such
earthworks has a circumference of 1,000 yards, and a diameter
of 300 yards. The outer bank is now only 14 feet or so above
the bottom of the inner ditch, but OBrien thinks that
when it was built the bank alone would have stood 12 feet high.
Cut into the bank, and still clearly visible, are six indentations.
The dents, OBrien says, were used for observing
the movements on the sun, moon and stars.
calculations show that the ancient astronomers would have had
a solar-year calendar, and a full19-year lunar calendar at Wandlebury.
The odds against random chance have, by now, rocketed to 10
million to one, says the OBrien computer.
earthworks at Hatfield Forest including Portingbury Hills, and
a large lake and ditch, also indicated that midsummer sunrise
and other events were marked and observed.
lake at Hatfield Forest, and the 50ft wide ditch emerging form
it, is enclosed by ancient woodland and endowed with the same
mystical atmosphere that exists at Wandlebury not oppressive,
but eerie. The lake itself was formed only 230 years ago by
the damming of a stream, but one of its shores forms the continuation
of the sweeping half-circle of the ditch into which the water
has also spilled.
believes that the ditch originally went a full circle, forming
an observatory like Wandlebury, but half as big again. Around
the lake are several of the distinctively shaped boulders found
along Line A.
A itself passes through a corner of the lake and continues for
a short distance to Hatfield Broad Oak, a picturesque Essex
village. Close to the ruins of an old priory, OBrien found
his last stone (the Priory Stone) buried in the garden of a
private house. The stone does appear to mark the end of Line
A, but there are other lumps of rock close to all the Line A
stations which also have geometric significance,
OBriens theories are right, they would show that
the surveying was done 2,000 years before Pythagoras. However,
Pythagorean triangles (right-angled triangles with sides of
a 3 : 4 : 5 ratio) figure prominently in the calculations.
At Wandlebury, for instance, OBrien constructed the largest
3 : 4 : 5 triangle which could be accommodated, with one line
pointing towards the summer solstice gap. The right angle was
on his Line A, and to his amazement the spot marked by a stone
set deep in the ground.
really was a thrilling and unexpected discovery. We now knew
how the initial alignment of Line A was obtained, and that it
was mathematically tied to the direction of midsummer sunrise,
said OBrien. It meant that anywhere along Line A somebody
could have easily worked out the direction of the midsummer
is evidence at Wandlebury of other small ditches. These, OBrien
calculates, were used by the builders as eye-level water horizons.
Each of the dents in the Wandlebury bank has several astronomical
purposes. From the exact centre, for instance, there is one
pointing towards the North Star. Another points the way to the
midsummer sunrise, and another to the lunar summer maximum.
precision of the builders has helped OBrien to calculate
when Wandlebury was built. Because of the Earths lazy
drift through space there is a minute deviation in the position
of sunrise. The cycle takes 20,000 years to complete, but it
gives experts a clock to look at.
therefore that the builders constructed Wandlebury so that the
rising sun would have been exactly in the centre of the dent
in the mound, OBrien can say, to within 200 years, when
it was build. From our calculations we believe that Wandlebury
was constructed no less than 4,500 years ago. That is about
contemporary with Avebury and the first part of Stonehenge."
his study, OBrien has, rather like St Paul, sought to
disprove, rather than prove, some of his theories. But as fact
piled upon fact he found it harder to escape the conclusion
that Wandlebury was a sophisticated, if unwieldy, calendar.
It may have been used to calculate when crops should be planted
and harvested, but more likely it was for assessing quarter
days and religious festivals. A few surviving customs, in particular
the old village maypole, may originate in local peasants
mimicry of the wise mens actions.
mathematical comparisons between Avebury and Wandlebury established
a close similarity between the two circles which, OBrien
says, were built not only about the same time but almost certainly
by the same group of people. Indeed, most of Britains
monuments are so similar in design that some experts (OBrien
included) have suggested they were built form the same pattern
book. A sort of inspectorate of monuments probably
toured sites to check that the work was done properly.
was the amazing accuracy of the ancient builders which most
nagged OBriens mind, in particular the precision
of his Line A. This line, as far as he has ascertained, is unique.
the old astronomers wanted just to know the direction of midsummer
sunrise from anywhere along the line, accuracy of the kind they
achieved would have been quite unnecessary, pondered Mr
long consideration he concluded that what the builders must
have been calculating was the difference in latitude between
Wandlebury and Hatfield Forest. The direction of sunrise depends,
of course, on the latitude from which it is observed.
original surveyors would have had a system for measuring circles,
and indeed there is evidence of some ancient races having used
the same 360-degree system that is used today. Assuming that
they used a 360-degree circle they would have calculated a difference
in latitude between the points of 0.299°.
would have known already the exact distance on the ground along
Line A, and so the sagacious builders would have had to do some
fairly simple multiplication (Line A distance time 360/0.299)
to obtain the polar circumference of Earth.
has done his arithmetic and found that they would have been
no more than one per cent. out, a matter of a few miles. His
views will not please archaeologists, some of whom would prefer
the monuments to go away (there being so little about them that
can be certain).
established experts in the history of astronomy have studied
OBriens paper, but most are reserving judgement,
preferring to think it over. As Archie Roy, Professor of Astronomy
at Glasgow University, said after reading the paper: The
conclusions are so astounding that one immediately has to step
back, look again, and ask, Can this really be so?
Had he written this paper 20 years ago, people would have laughed
at it, but recent studies have revealed a picture of an elite
in Britain who seem to have run the country.
equivalent to his Line A has been found so far, but that does
not mean one does not exist. I dont see why, if it was
built by them, it could not have been straight. The Chinese
in the 11th century AD surveyed from a straight line 3,000 kilometres
long. However, in the absence of a more convincing explanation,
this conclusion also has to be taken very seriously.
was delighted with Professor Roys comments. I am
very flattered that he was taken the trouble to read my paper.
My explanation for Line A being a loxodrome would be that builders,
for some unexplained reason, wanted to achieve an amazing degree
of accuracy, which they would not have got had the line been
not all experts are quite so charitable as Professor Roy. One
man who has spent many years studying and writing about Britains
heritage of megalithic observatories is Professor Alexander
Thom, former Professor of Engineering Science at Oxford University.
He says he is not yet persuaded that Wandlebury is anything
but an Iron Age fort.
said: I have some doubts and am going slow on this. Why
use this method for measuring the earth? Early people, in China
and Egypt, for instance, mostly had recourse to measuring the
suns altitude at midsummer stations far apart but on the
Daniel, Professor of Archaeology at Cambridge University, thought
OBriens paper was nonsense. He said,
I can find nothing in it to make me revise my views on
Tim OBrien ha a fault, it is his innocent assumption that
we are all as clever as he is, though he would be terribly embarrassed
if he knew that he were talking above our heads. He is a most
placid man, but becomes agitated when the topic of archaeologists
and historians is raised.
there is a tendency among pre-historians to label as religious
or cultic all artefacts that cannot be clearly defined
a secular thus all pot-bellied female figurines become
fertility goddesses, and all-important building foundations
that cannot be shown to be dwelling places are invariably said
to be temples or shrines.
of these objects, even those as massive as Wandlebury, may well
have been built for purely practical use. The fact that midsummer
rites may have been danced there during the Middle Ages does
not affect their original purpose.
OBriens life revolves round her poetry, her husband
and her belief in his work. She says: This study is very
important. If these findings are correct they open the doors
of time, and make sense of much that seems nonsense in history.
They draw together many mysteries. By lighting up the past,
this information could help us in the future.
OBrien himself the work goes on: The astronomically
aligned earthworks and megalithic erections at Stonehenge, the
Cyclopean earthworks at Silbury Hill and Avebury, and the solar
and lunar observatory at Wandlebury are, quite simply, there
monuments to the technical expertise of a culture which,
according to traditional archaeological thinking, never existed,
although the monuments have survived for nearly 5,000 years.
is no written evidence nor any substantial oral tradition in
Britain concerning the builders of our megalithic monument,
which is why our pre-historians have largely neglected this
search for these builders is more important than repetitive
surveys of the stones they left behind. If we find them we should
find also the inspiration behind the development of Western
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