Stonehenge replica being built in... New Zealand
"The whole idea of the henge is that people can come out here and learn real basic astronomy, the real foundations of what astronomy is all about," says Richard Hall, the infectiously enthusiastic and indefatigable project manager and president of the Phoenix Astronomical Society, which is building the Kiwi henge.
The aim of the project, funded by a grant of NZ$56,500 from the Royal Society of New Zealand, is to generate interest in science among people who might not normally be keen on the subject.
"We came up with the idea of Stonehenge because it doesn't matter who you are -- everyone looks at the Pyramids and Stonehenge and structures like that (and asks) who built them, why did they build them?" says Hall.
A henge is a roughly circular flat area surrounded by a ditch and a bank of earth, sometimes with a ring of stones or wooden posts within the circular ditch. The New Zealand Stonehenge, due to open June 5, won't merely replicate what is in the Northern Hemisphere; the aim is to create an astronomical calendar for the southern skies.
"The original Stonehenge was very accurate," says Hall, "because, remember, they built that over a thousand-year period. You can see where they've actually had to move things, where things worked OK for a while and then they came out of adjustment. We've got a one-shot here. We're going to get it right."
One of the first jobs when the project started in earnest last September was to accurately survey the site, explains Kay Leather, the project's construction team manager.
"You have to work out, as (the stars) come up, where they will actually appear, as against where a computer says they'll appear, because they are not on the sea horizon," says Leather. "The lintel is actually governed by the hill line so that you've got the stars and things happening at the right point and the rest of the henge happening at the right point."
After the team finished surveying, it took months to fence, excavate and level the site. Late February's torrential rains in Wairarapa, in the southern half of the North Island of New Zealand, didn't help. The ditch kept collapsing. "I guess we dug heavy, sloppy, hard clay about three times, my daughter and I," says Leather, laughing now at the memory of the bad weather. "There were ducks swimming around over there."
Next they erected the pillars and lintels, hollow structures constructed using wood and cement board (hewn stone would have been too expensive and time-consuming to erect). But in a nod to the old, the finished henge will be coated with cement and covered in plaster sculpted to look like stone. Inside the "stones" will be some modern accoutrements: wires to allow a sound system to be installed. "We've already got two couples who want to get married out here," says Hall.
An obelisk inside the stone circle will mark the passage of the year as the shadow of the obelisk moves in a figure eight on a mosaic of 18,500 tiles below. The tiles will display the date and the constellations of the zodiac. Outside the circle, three pairs of standing stones will show where the sun will rise and set for each of the solstices and equinoxes. "So you can see the enormous distances the sun actually travels along the horizon," says Hall.
Every key point will have a plaque denoting its significance. "It may be a simple phrase like 'midsummer solstice sunrise.' The ones that are more seasonally oriented will have something like 'time to harvest the kumara (sweet potato),'" says Leather.
To make the henge truly of Aotearoa (the Mâori name for New Zealand), the astronomers have ensured that their creation links to the stars that Polynesian navigators used to cross the Pacific Ocean. "We've also turned this henge into a huge Polynesian star compass so people will see how people used the stars to navigate by," says Hall.
For those who want to learn even more, the Wairarapa site is home to the Phoenix Astronomical Society's recreational telescope and will eventually house a research observatory as well. But even if visitors only meander amid the Kiwi henge, the hope is that they will learn something new.
Says Hall: "We've got the ancient here, where our ancestors started from, which is just as valid as it was 10,000 years ago, and then we are going to have the modern astronomy here as well."
Posted by juamei
5th May 2004ce
Edited 10th February 2006ce