Mull and Argyll A Test of Precision

Ruggles (1984a, 1988a,b) and Norris (1988) discuss at length a series of sites selected to test Thom's ideas about lunar and solar alignments. Ruggles used predefined criteria for site selection and examined 300 western Scottish sites that had not previously been examined by Thom. Ruggles (1988, p. 275) argues that his criteria are necessary to avoid bias in selection of the sites and measurement points, and he roundly criticizes the work of the Thoms as suffering from just these kinds of bias. All Ruggles's data were collected before any analysis was undertaken to preclude preliminary analyses from biasing later data recording. This was designed to be a test of Thom's ideas, in the sense that the data were comparably rigorous but constituted an entirely independent sample. In the first stage of the study, Ruggles (1988, p. 234) concluded that

(1) There were indications of preferred declinations, but at three levels of precision:

(a) At the lowest level, 8 = ±15° were "strongly avoided"

(b) At the midlevel, there was "marked preference" for 8 > 27°, and for -31° < 8 < -19°

(c) At the highest precision level (1° to 2°), there was marginal precision for six declinations: -30°, -25°, -22.5°, +18°, +27°, and +33°

(2) Sites in Mull and Argyll, especially those with 3-, 4-, and 5-stone rows, showed specific declination preferences

(3) The declination trends became more marked for stone rows, pairs, and single flat slabs in the majority of Mull and Argyll sites, especially for the range, -31° <8< -19°

A second derivative study concentrated on 92 linear arrangements in Argyle and Mull that included new horizon data. This showed a primary grouping of declinations within a degree or two of -30° and a secondary grouping centered on -23° with somewhat more variation. Of these, a statistically defined group of 15 emerged, somewhat modified by later study. The data indicated "secondary" alignments (in terms of the way the menhirs are arranged) toward -24° at sites that also contained "primary" alignments near -30°. The archeo-logically defined "primary" and "secondary" alignments were reversed at Duncracaig and at Ardmacross, where only declinations near -24° were found. "The primary orientations appear to present particularly strong evidence of deliberate orientation upon the southern major standstill of the moon" (Ruggles 1988, p. 245). The secondary orientations were interpreted as marking either another point in the lunar cycle (although with no declinations higher than -21°) or the midwinter Sun (statistically indistinguishable). Ruggles's more general conclusions are that the high-precision results of the Thoms are spurious, but that the Megalith builders were indeed interested in marking the extreme solar and lunar positions. These conclusions, however, say nothing about the precision that may have been achieved at particular sites, where a combination of natural features on the horizon, as well as care, intelligence, and good luck on the part of the builders may well have led to at least some of the precise alignments deduced by Thom. The alternative, skeptical view of the apparent successes of the Thom hypothesis at these sites is that they are merely fortuitous. We discuss some of these sites in the next few subsections.

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