When we speak of ‘astronomy’ in relation to stone circles and other Neolithic monuments, we are not implying a scientific approach such as that of modern astronomy. Rather, we are interested in the way that many monuments seem to have been aligned upon particular astronomical events, such as sunrise or sunset at the winter or summer solstices, or certain phases of the moon (which are much complex and difficult to understand than the annual cycle of the sun), or even the rising or setting positions of certain stars at particular times of year. Such alignments presumably featured in festivals, and must have related to aspects of the cosmology of the people who built and used the monuments.

Various alignments have been suggested for Long Meg stone circle, but there is only one that is beyond dispute. Inevitably, in a circle of at least 68 stones and distant horizons, a number of potentially significant alignments could be expected to occur by chance. More work is needed to establish whether such alignments were deliberately incorporated into the circle at Long Meg; for example, white granite boulders lie very close to midsummer sunrise and sunset when viewed from the centre of the circle and if these alignments are confirmed it seems impossible to accept that they could have been placed where they are by chance.

Winter Solstice
Winter solstice sunset at Long Meg

The one alignment that is beyond dispute at Long Meg is to the winter solstice sunset, on the shortest day of the year. Long Meg herself, standing outside the circle, marks this direction, and as the sun sets on the shortest day her shadow is cast right across the circle. The carvings on her east face may relate in some way to the solstice. Alignments on the winter solstice are also recorded at many other great Neolithic monuments, such as Stonehenge, Maes How passage grave in Orkney, and Newgrange passage grave in Ireland. Collectively, these suggest that the winter solstice was of supreme importance in the Neolithic calendar, and it is not hard to understand why, given that it was essential to the continuation of life that the sun halted its southward movement and started to rise and set a little further north each day, leading back to spring and summer in the eternal annual cycle. Perhaps people came to Long Meg from far and wide to take part in a midwinter festival each year, merging religious rituals with feasting and fun, much as we continue to do today at what we call Christmas.

Aerial view of Long Meg and her Daughters
Long Meg stands south-west of her Daughters, in line with the Winter solstice sunset