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PostPosted: 22 Dec 2008, 15:42 
Guardian of the East

Joined: 22 Dec 2008, 02:47
Posts: 589
jess invited me here from Talk Rational; she thought that you people might be interested in something like this:

People in various parts of the world have been celebrating at winter solstice time for centuries. Christmas, Yule, Saturnalia, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, HumanLight, ...

Many of the celebrations are ripoffs or imitations of older ones, it must be said. Reform Jews made Hanukkah into a big celebration to compete with Christmas, as Ebonmuse has noted in Why Hanukkah? Kwanzaa was invented by black nationalist Ron Karenga in 1966, and HumanLight was invented by the New Jersey Humanist Network in 2001.

But how far back can we look? It is certainly difficult to tell what people celebrated in the absence of written records, but there are other clues that one can use.

Ebonmuse has also noted that it is the Season of Light. All those lights in the celebrations are for making up for the lack of light at that time of year in northern latitudes. And Christmas trees? They are evergreens, meaning that they keep their leaves all year round, keeping them from looking dead.

These features are unconnected with Jesus Christ and part of the Bible forbids decorating trees (Jeremiah 10:3-4). But these features are connected with the ultimate reason, axial tilt, which means less sunlight, which in turn means more darkness and colder weather, and so forth. But they do not give us much of a time clue.

The name of [wiki]Yule[/wiki] does, however. Various early Germanic peoples had Yule celebrations, and these got turned into Christmas ones; Scandinavian people still use their cognates of "Yule" for the holiday (Danish jol, Icelandic jól, Norwegian jul, Swedish jul). This suggests that it was also celebrated by the ancestral Germanic people, who likely produced the [wiki]Jastorf culture[/wiki] of Denmark and northern Germany around 500 BCE - 1 CE.

And since Christmas trees are originally Germanic, they may more properly be called Yule trees.

But can we go further?

In several parts of the world are ancient monuments which are designed for viewing various astronomical alignments, which suggests that the occasions of those were times worth marking out. Here are some winter-solstice ones, suggesting that winter-solstice celebrations have great antiquity:

The Newgrange Megalithic Passage Tomb (3200 BCE, Ireland) has its entrance corridor oriented so that when the Sun rises on Winter Solstice, it shines directly into that corridor.

The Dowth Megalithic Passage Tomb (similar age, same place) is similar; there is a part of it that is illuminated by the Sun only during the Winter Solstice afternoon.

The Maeshowe Chambered Cairn (3000 BCE, Orkney Islands just north of Great Britain); its entrance is aligned for viewing the winter-solstice sunset.

Stonehenge (3000 - 2000 BCE, southwestern England); Its main alignment is from winter solstice sunset to summer solstice sunrise.

Chichen Itza (around 1000 CE, Yucatan Peninsula), also has some solstice alignments.

Lunar Markings on Fajada Butte, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico discusses the distinctive illumination of some markers on the solstices; those markers were likely carved around 1000 CE.

(originally from this FRDB thread; skepticalbip noted a "Middle of the World" Inca monument near Quito, Ecuador, and linked to this page)

Any more interesting ones? Especially winter-solstice ones. :)

The British-Isles ones are, of course, much older than Jesus Christ -- 3000 years older. And they are almost 2000 years older than the first mention of Jesus Christ's ethnicity in Pharaoh Merneptah's Victory Stele ("Israel is wasted, bare of seed").

In fact, the only people who could read and write back then were Sumerians and Egyptians -- and they were far away in the Middle East.

PostPosted: 21 Dec 2009, 22:52 
Guardian of the East

Joined: 22 Dec 2008, 02:47
Posts: 589
Bumped for this holiday season.

A fun question to ask is "Where was everybody?" Where were our ancestors living back then, and what were they like?

To keep it short and quick, I'll do a brief prehistory of the British Isles.

The first Germanic speakers to arrive there were the Angles and Saxons, who arrived around 500 CE. Their language was Old English, the ancestor of the present-day language of the British Isles, and the language that we all are speaking here.

The Romans conquered southern Great Britain over 43 to 84 CE though Julius Caesar led some expeditions into the island almost a century before. They were the first literate inhabitants of those islands, though that literacy was lost when the Romans abandoned their British territory.

And before that, the Iron Age Celts arrived in the British Isles around 600 BCE, gradually spreading all over them by 500 BCE.

The Bronze Age Beaker-culture people arrived in 2700 BCE; it had earlier spread over much of western Europe. It was Beaker-culture people who did much of the construction of Stonehenge.

Neolithic farmers arrived in Britain at about 4400 BCE, and it was these farmers who built Newgrange, Knowth, Dowth, early Stonehenge, and several other such stone monuments.

From the end of the last Ice Age at 10,000 BCE to that time, British people were Mesolithic semi-settled hunters and gatherers.

One can find more details in Prehistoric Britain (Wikipedia).

PostPosted: 22 Dec 2009, 05:53 
The Power to Scry
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Think on...



ImageImageThe original formula revealed to Pastafarian scholars did not include the butter and toast element, which is necessary to relate kittens to antigravity. The Flying Spaghetti Monster inspired this revision one day when He skipped breakfast.

May the road rise up
To meet you
May the wind be always
At your back
May the sun shine warm
upon your face
May the rain fall soft
upon your field,
And until we meet again.
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

"I apologise... For nothing!"

Last edited by Hex on 22 Dec 2009, 10:13, edited 1 time in total.
Double post removed - thanks!

PostPosted: 27 Dec 2009, 03:17 
Guardian of the East

Joined: 22 Dec 2008, 02:47
Posts: 589
I've done some more research into the OP's question, and I've found some even older astronomically-aligned monuments.

The Goseck circle, the "German Stonehenge" despite being stoneless, is even older. It it a set of concentric ditches 75 m / 240 ft across, with two palisade rings with gaps in certain places.

From the structure's center, those gaps point north, southeast, and southwest, with the southeast and southwest ones pointing to the directions of Winter Solstice sunrise and sunset.

There are some 250 similar ring ditches in Germany, Austria, and Croatia, though archeologists have studied only 1/10 of them. They had long been a puzzle because they had no villages inside, but if they have astronomical alignments in the fashion of the Goseck circle, then that could explain that puzzle.

The Goseck Circle has been dated with the help of the styles of some pottery fragments found in it; it is about 6900 years old. The pottery fragments belong to the Stroke-ornamented ware culture, found in eastern Germany, Austria, Poland and the Czech Republic at about this time. It is a version of the Linear Pottery culture (LBK) found in east-central Europe over 5500 - 4500 BCE. That culture started out in the Czech Republic and Hungary around 5500 BCE and spread outward at about 4 km/year; its people were likely the first farmers in central Europe.

Looking elsewhere, the Mnajdra temple complex in Malta dates back to the 4th millennium BCE. One of its temples is astronomically aligned. At sunrise on the vernal equinox, the sunlight goes through the main gate through two chambers to fall upon a stone slab on the opposite side. At sunrise on the solstices, however, the sunlight falls upon one of the stone pillars on each side of a passageway connecting the two chambers.

Its builders had arrived in Malta about 5200 BCE, likely from Sicily.

At the Nabta Playa in Egypt is another astronomically-aligned stone monument. A sort of Egyptian Stonehenge was built there in the 5th millennium BCE, with a north-south alignment and a summer-solstice-sunrise alignment.

As a result of a wetter climate, Nabta had been a lake back then, and people had already been living there for some millennia. But around 2800 BCE, the monsoon shifted and it became a desert.

PostPosted: 29 Dec 2009, 12:50 
Grand Poobah
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intriguing, Thanks.

Chloride and Sodium: Two terribly dangerous substances that taste great together!

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