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Good Heavens ... astronomer bids to rejuvenate stone circle

It was created in the late 1970s to mirror the rise and fall of the moon and sun across Glasgow on a site of ancient astronomical interest.

Now efforts are being made to rejuvenate the Sighthill Stone Circle, created by amateur astronomer and science writer Duncan Lunan, who brought Britain’s first authentically alligned stone circle in more than 3000 years to Glasgow’s inner city.

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More than 30 years later, Lunan hopes to revive interest in the stone circle, which was built by the Glasgow Parks Astronomy Department using funds from the former Jobs Creation Scheme.

When money for the project was abruptly scrapped by the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher, four pieces of stone never made it to the circle and are now stashed under a nearby bush in Sighthill Park. It is hoped the circle can now be completed as Lunan intended.

At the stones yesterday, Lunan said: “There is still nothing up here to say who built the circle, who it was built for or how it works. I have been told that nowadays children are afraid of it, that they think it is linked to black magic, that sort of thing. That is something I want to change.”

The site of the stones may not at first seem a likely spot of spiritual significance given that they are surrounded by 1960s tower blocks, acres of plain parkland and a belching incinerator.

Built on a hilltop with dramatic views across the city, they incorporate the line of the midsummer sunset across the city, which is historically mapped by Dobie’s Loan from the neolithic site, where Glasgow Cathedral now sits, to Summerhill.

It was here where midsummer parties were held to celebrate the sun at its highest and most powerful, where bonfires were lit to hail the light and ward off evil spirits believed to roam freely as the sun turned southwards again. The Pagan-style parties continued until the 17th century, when they were halted by the church.

Lunan would like to revive the celebrations of the midsummer sunset at Sighthill, with a

gathering planned for the night of June 21.

Whereas in Neolithic times stone circle creators would take 100 years to observe the movement of the moon, the earth and the light of the sun, Lunan had a matter of months to work out the necessary co-ordinates on his New Stone Age calendar.

“Getting the precision right was the really hard part. And the winters of 1978 and 1979 were really terrible too, you could hardly see a thing,” he said.

Photographs and astronomical graphs gave Lunan and his colleagues the necessary guide with the last of the 17 stones lowered into place by an RAF helicopter from HMS Gannet.

“The moon stones were too big to be brought by helicopter so it was the sun stones and the star stones that came by air. That was a hell of a day,” he said.

At first the project was to build a replica Stonehenge and Callanish Stones using modern materials, but given the significant astronomical setting it became a true stone circle of which Lunan remains proud.

He built it in tribute to four academics at Glasgow University who are responsible for the promotion and understanding of ancient astronomy; Professor Archie Roy, Dr Ewan McKay, Professor Alexander Thom and his son, Dr Archie Thom. “It started with Alexander Thom who, between the two world wars, was inspired by the falling moon over the Callanish Stones,” Lunan said.

“He became convinced that they used astronomy and mathematics on an advanced scale.”

The work was continued by his son and explored further by McKay and Roy.

“This was at a time when most archaeologists wouldn’t go near this stuff, claiming that primitive society was not capable of such understanding. It is very fitting that this stone circle is in Glasgow, as a tribute to them.”

Lunan would ultimately like the stone circle to be a key feature of a city-wide astronomy map, with the entire solar system represented on the correct scale within the city limits. If the stone circle represented the sun, Pluto would be at Cathkin Braes, Lunan said.

An illustrated talk on the Sighthill Stone Circle will be held at the Ogilve Centre, St Aloysius Church, Rose Street, Glasgow, on Monday June 21, followed by a visit to the circle for midsummer sunset from 9.30pm to 10pm.

The stone festivals

Stonehenge: The axis of Stonehenge in Wiltshire is aligned with sunrise at the summer solstice. Druids and other Pagans have gathered here at different points in history to celebrate the longest day of the year. Because of clashes with police in the 1980s, ceremonies were banned until 2001.

Callanish: The prehistoric site on Lewis has become a focus of summer solstice celebrations. According to local legend, the “shining one” walks up to the stone on the midsummer dawn. A path has been laid around the perimeter by Historic Scotland to lessen the damage caused by visitors.

Cornwall: The Golowan Festival is held on June 23, the eve of St John’s Day. Bonfires, feasting and merrymaking define the celebration. The streets of Penzance were traditionally lined with burning tar barrels and fires blazed on nearby hills but these were scaled back for safety reasons.

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