Gerald Hawkins bigraphy, stories - British astronomer

Gerald Hawkins : biography

1928 - 2003

Gerald Stanley Hawkins (1928–2003) was an English astronomer and author most famous for his work in the field of archaeoastronomy. A professor and chair of the astronomy department at Boston University in the United States. In 1965 he published an analysis of Stonehenge in which he was the first to propose its purpose as an ancient astronomical observatory used to predict movements of sun and stars. Archaeologists and other scholars have since demonstrated such sophisticated, complex planning and construction at other prehistoric earthwork sites, such as Cahokia in the United States.

Early life and education

Gerald Hawkins was born in Great Yarmouth and studied physics and mathematics at the University of Nottingham. In 1952 he took a PhD in radio astronomy, studying under Sir Bernard Lovell at the University of Manchester.


In 1957 Hawkins became professor of astronomy and chairman of the department at Boston University in the United States. He wrote widely on numerous subjects, including tektites, meteors and the steady-state universe theory.

Hawkins applied the technological resources of the university to studying the astronomical alignments of ancient megalithic sites. He fed the positions of standing stones and other features at Stonehenge into an early IBM 7090 computer and used the mainframe to model sun and moon movements. In his 1965 book, Stonehenge Decoded, Hawkins argued that the various features at the monument were arranged in such a way as to predict a variety of astronomical events.

By interpreting Stonehenge as a giant prehistoric observatory, Hawkins' work re-assessed what had previously been seen as a primitive temple. The archaeological community was skeptical and his theories were criticized by such noted historians as Richard Atkinson, who denounced the book as being "...tendentious, arrogant, slipshod, and unconvincing".

It sold widely, however. It was especially popular amongst the members of 1960s counter culture, who found that it followed a similar "wisdom of the ancients" line explored by Alexander Thom. Hawkins' theories still inform popular opinion of Stonehenge although archaeologists are cautious to accept them. Many scholars accept that the importance of astronomical alignment and large complexes being planned and constructed to fulfill cosmology has been demonstrated at other prehistoric sites, such as the Snake Mound and CahokiaFriedlander, Michael W., "The Cahokia Sun Circles", The Wisconsin Archeologist, Vol. 88(1), pages 78-90, 2007. in the United States.

Hawkins later examined the Nazca lines in Peru, and concluded there was not enough evidence to support an astronomical explanation for them. He also studied the temple of Amun at Karnak. He continued to study Stonehenge up until his death.

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