Maes Howe Revisited, Second Year Successful
It all started about two years ago. European archaeoastronomer Victor Reijs was asked to take some measurements of Maes Howe, an old monumental cairn in Orkney, Scotland. An Internet friend of his speculated that the building wasn't built for the winter solstice, but for Yule, which meant that its alignment was for a period before and after the solstice rather than for the solstice itself. After further research was done, it occurred to Mr. Reijs to put a camera inside the building.
With the help of a local photographer, Charles Tait, and the permission of the nation's historic preservation organization, Historic Scotland, the Maes Howe project has grown into a "monumental" effort with corporate sponsors and a live internet broadcast running through January 1999.
"After visiting Maes Howe," says Mr. Reijs, "I got the idea of putting a camera inside the mound so that I could see at home how the sun would set inside the chamber. Last year, around Winter Solstice, we were able to do the first broadcasting from Maes Howe." The Maes Howe Project started on January 20, 1997. The two leaders of the project are Victor Reijs and Charles Tait. Corporate sponsors include the University of Utrecht, Multicap, Electric Engineering, SURFnet, Nijenhuis, and Arcane Technologies Ltd..
After permission was given by Historic Scotland to take measurements inside Maes Howe, these were used to create a computer model. From the model, Mr. Reijs was able to tell that the passage in the chamber was aligned so that the sun would penetrate the back wall for a period of 30 days before and after the solstice. Furthermore, after a period of 22 to 23 days (known as a Megalithic Month) the sunlight would reappear behind Ward Hill and relight the chamber of Maes Howe.
Part of Maes Howe was rebuilt in 1861, which left some speculation as to whether the renovation has affected the way the sun shines against the back wall of the chamber. "This rebuilding could have caused the reappearance of the sun inside the chamber," says Mr. Reijs. "If the rebuilding of the beginning of the passage was very wrong, the sun perhaps would not relight the chamber in the Megalithic time period."
One of the reasons for the existence of the Maes Howe project is to "see what the Neolithic peoples thought," according to Charles Tait.
Future plans of this project including expanding it to other similar buildings in Ireland, such as Newgrange and Knowth. According to the "Megalithic Month Alignment at Maes Howe" essay, measurements from these buildings show that in addition to the light penetrating through the passage, light during midday of the longest day can penetrate through a hole below the capstone of the roofs.
One of the biggest components of the Maes Howe project is the companion Web site. The site is comprised of information about the project founders and sponsors, as well as background information, a daily diary, and the actual live broadcast feed from Maes Howe. Times are posted on the site as to when the video footage can be seen. Also included is a project plan, which explains all actions performed and material costs to run the project.
© 1998 Sharon Pettis