As springtime in Western culture marks the new season and lunar cycle, all we need to do is refer to the calendar’s official marking of Easter in anticipation of spring. Calendars of this sort did not appear in the West until the Julian Calendar was established during the Roman Empire, c. 46 BC. Much later on, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII’s Gregorian Calendar replaced the Julian Calendar. Without the modern inventions of calendars and watches, very complex methods were used to measure time in the remote societies of antiquity. An entire unit based on time-telling in the past through observations in light and shadow is an ideal way to study the effects of shadow and light during different seasons. Last spring, HistoryPLUSArt highlighted some ancient literary traditions surrounding the Spring Equinox.

     This spring, the focus is on ancient structures that marked the changes of season and the essential processes our ancestors used to determine the time of day and year. The pyramid, temple, and Stonehenge are ancient structures linked to ancient spring celebrations. Many age-appropriate descriptions are available for the theme of ancient time-telling, and a study of its associated structures relates to more fascinating fields existing in modern science. The Stonehenge and Sarsen Stone, for instance, teach that age may be calculated by radiocarbon levels in organic material. Radio carbon dating and the radioisotope are archaeological tools that determine the mix of cosmic rays with nitrogen in the atmosphere, the formula for carbon dioxide. The chemical equation is:  14N + 1n = 14C + 1H. Carbon has several isotypes; the longest-lived radioisotope is 14 C. More significant, the ancient Stonehenge had a shapeshifting function.

     First, its deliberate placement faced northeast, and marked the focal points of the Solstice and Equinox sun. The Heel Stone marked where the Solstice Sun rose. A Sun-stone was a stone placed within a circle of other stones to reveal the sunrise from within. Secondly, other Stonehenge circles enclosed burial mounds, which indicated a mixed function. Radiocarbon dating reveals how 3100 BC was an age where the first megalith monument appeared, in a circular structure, about 360 feet in diameter. The scientists like Stukeley, Halley, Newnham, Thom, and Hawkins have performed extensive studies based on the Stonehenge, and their theories are as much a part of the Stonehenge phenomenon as is the history.

     As the barren setting of these megaliths, ancient Maya’s lush Mesoamerican forest also symbolized rebirth and healing. A Mayan Maize God, associated with Tikal Temple I, denoted renewal during the Spring Equinox. Particularly linked to this structure was the sacred Kapok Tree. A spring celebration, the Sacred Fire Ceremony, commemorated the sunrise and its journey through the universe. Maya’s natural habitat retained its importance as a resource for healing human illnesses and ailments. There, royal classed medicine men studied symptoms of the ill in order to concoct the appropriate remedies. Medicine men relied on plants, herbs, and even a plant's color to cure illnesses. Listed below are several activities that reinforce learning about changing seasons and these ancient buildings, all taken from a larger, fully integrated curriculum unit.

                                                                     Part One: A Vernal Equinox Experiment

     This topic is best taught in a few segments over the course of several days. Follow up activities can involve image and phrase matching, fill in the blank games, and storytelling. Evaluation may include multiple choice quizzes, maps, and tabulating data on graphs.

                                                                                        Main Objectives

     Students will be able to understand:

Sun is heat and energy

Distance between earth and the sun varies at certain times of the year and causes temperature changes because the Earth orbits the Sun at an angle

Sunlight and heat is more scattered through the atmosphere during an autumnal equinox, when the temperature is colder in the Northern Hemisphere cities

Sunlight and heat is more concentrated through the atmosphere during a Vernal equinox, when the temperature is warmer in Northern Hemisphere cities

During a vernal equinox, the sun is tilted toward the North Pole and the sun in Northern Hemisphere cities, so the days are longer than in winter and the of hours in daylight is proportionate to night's darkness, or twelve hours long; the earth is farther from the sun

During an autumnal equinox, the sun tilts away from the North Pole and the sun in Northern Hemisphere cities, so the days are shortened; the earth is closer to the sun

                                                                                           Secondary Objectives

Students will be able to understand and clearly express:

     Crop success was key to ancient survival and heavily relied on good weather

     Express how diverse cultures ensured a successful equinox through various rituals to assist important aspects of nature

     The rabbit was an important symbol of fertility and associated with successful crops

     Pyramids, temples, the Stone Henge, and murals were buildings tied to Easter celebrations in antiquity


     Images: Tikal I, Stonehenge, Grianan of Aileach, Great Sphinx, Grianan of Aileach, Darius of Persia; felt board, reading handouts, map of Europe. Lesson and Process Prepare a storyboard with one larger and one smaller circular shape to illustrate the position of the sun, earth, and North Pole during the equinox.


     Introduce the historical figure, Hipparchus of Nicea. Students will then read materials on ancient sites where megaliths, temples, and pyramids exist and then learn that in the Northern Hemisphere during a vernal equinox, the sun tilts toward the North Pole and that the number of daylight hours are exactly proportionate to night's darkness. As the sun is heat and energy and is closer to Earth's central axis during a spring equinox, the days lengthen to twelve hours. The vernal equinox signals warmer temperatures in Northern hemisphere cities. On the other hand, during an autumnal equinox, the sun tilts away from the North Pole; days become short because sunlight is spread over a greater distance from the sun. This event marks the arrival of cold weather.

     Hipparchus of Nicea, 130 AD, realized the earth gradually moved. In antiquity, especially throughout the Neolithic age, markets were rare, so many different cultures relied on the weather for crop success and survival. Highlight how various cultures celebrated the Equinox.

     Examples : Babylon Great Sphinx Iran Nowruz Guatemala Tikal Temple I Ireland Grianan of Aileach Britain Stonehenge

                                                                        Follow Up Shining Sun Science Activity


     Flashlight, dark construction paper, measuring tape, sketchpad, note paper, pen, pencil, colored markers1


     1. Imagine you are the sun, and the dark paper represents the earth. Stand in front of the paper and measure how far you are standing from the paper. Jot it down.

     2 Next, switch on the flashlight and shine it straight at the paper. A circular shape should appear. Sketch the outline of the shape. If you touch the paper, you might feel some heat from the light. In brief sentences, answer the following:

     a) Does the appearance of the sun indicate a vernal or autumnal equinox? Is the light concentrated or scattered? Why? Example It is a vernal equinox because light is concentrated.

     b) What can you say about the sun's effect on earth's atmosphere from a lesser distance? Example Light and heat are more concentrated during the Verdun Equinox.

     3 Now, back away from the paper and shine the flashlight against it, this time point it a little bit at an angle off the ceiling. Mark down the distance you are standing from the wall and sketch the sun's changed shape. Touch the wall.

     a) Is the wall warm or cold? Is sunlight concentrated or scattered? Why? What can you say about the sun's effect on earth from a greater distance?

     Example: Light and heat are more scattered through the atmosphere in winter.

     b) What conclusions can you make about seasonal temperature and light in an autumnal equinox? Write down your observations in separate but related paragraphs. Include your illustrations.

     Example: When the sun is positioned farther from the earth's central axis, it gets colder and stays darker longer. When it is closer to the earth's axis, it gets warmer and stays lighter longer. It is colder and the days are shorter and nights darker longer.

                                                                                                  Bonus Activity

     Write a few paragraphs explaining why some countries are always warm, whereas others are much colder. Use a map to provide your examples and provide labels. What do you do when you want nice weather to arrive? Why is good weather important to you and your family? What is the climate like in your city? Have you ever visited a tropical country? Where was it? How was the climate?


Shuffle through the image cards and map of Europe. In two to three pages, using proper punctuation, complete the following and make sure that all your spelling and punctuation is correct.

      1. Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England

     a) Describe the age, function, size, and dating method used for the Wiltshire Stonehenge.

     b) Define the term "earthwork" and describe how it is at the Wiltshire Stonehenge.

     c) Explain the purpose of a burial mound and provide at least one example.

     d) What is the difference between a henge and the Stonehenge?

     e) Name two famous henge sites.

     2. Stonehenge Plan

     Describe, label, and illustrate the shape, function, and organization of the Wiltshire Stonehenge.

    3. Sarsen Stone Carvings

     Describe the meaning of "sarsen" and another related word, "Saracen". Explain sarsen stone's natural geology, location, and the age from which sarsen stones emerged. What images are carved on sarsen stones?

Bonus: What do sarsen stone carvings reveal about the culture of ancient Britons?

     4. Bluestone Henge, Carn Menyn

     Explain where Bluestone Henge is located, and why it is not a "stone Henge". Describe the weight and substance of a bluestone. What are names of some Bluestone megaliths?

     5. Sarsen Blowing Stone

     What famous king and battle is associated with the Blowing Stone, and why?

     6. Hertfordshire Puddingstone

     Where is the Hertfordshire Puddingstone and how old is it? What type of stone is "puddingstone?"

     7. Coronation Stone Where is the Coronation Stone? Name three kings whose coronation the Coronation Stone commemorates.

     8. Wood Henge

     Describe the Wood Henge’s location and the period from which it originated. What is its material? Make a diagram of the Wood Henge.

     9. Henge Map

     On the map provided, plot the locations of Wiltshire, Hertfordshire, Carn Menyn, Kingston-upon-Thames, Badon Hill, Cumbria, London Basin, Orkney, Yorkshire, and Dorset. Provide labels.

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