Somerville Boyle 18641936

Henry Boyle Townshend Somerville was one of a handful of keen amateur astronomers and surveyors in the early part of the twentieth century who extended the work of Sir Norman Lockyer by carrying out their own surveys of megalithic monuments. Having risen to the rank of vice-admiral in the Royal Navy, he retired in 1919. After he returned to his native County Cork, he was responsible for the first published archaeoastronomical surveys and interpretations of a number of Irish chambered tombs, stone circles, and rows. It was he, for example, who first drew attention to the solstitial orientation of the stone circle at Drombeg.

Somerville is best known, however, for first drawing attention in 1912 to the possible lunar orientation of some of the standing stones at Callanish on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland. One consequence of his paper on Callanish, published in the Journal of the British Astronomical Association, was to trigger the interest of Alexander Thom, who went on to become one of the most influential twentieth-century figures in the field. More fundamentally, though, it contained the first suggestion that a prehistoric monument might have been aligned upon the horizon rising or setting point of the moon, not just of the sun or stars. This initiated a line of inquiry that is still bearing fruit today among the Bronze Age monuments of Scotland and Ireland, in particular the Scottish recumbent stone circles and some of the short stone rows found in western Scotland and western Ireland.

Somerville was murdered in 1936 by Irish republican activists, who saw him as encouraging Irish recruits into the British armed forces.

See also:

Lockyer, Sir Norman (1836-1920); Thom, Alexander (1894-1985).

Callanish; Drombeg; Recumbent Stone Circles; Short Stone Rows; Wedge Tombs.

References and further reading

Michell, John. A Little History of Astro-Archaeology, 40-42. London: Thames and Hudson, 1989.

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