A new theory which claims that one of Sweden’s most famous Megalithic monuments is at least 1,500 years older than previously thought, has stirred up a hornet’s nest in the otherwise peaceful Swedish archeological community.
According to a paper published in March in theInternational Journal of Astronomy and Astrophysics, authored by Nils-Axel Mörner (a retired geologist from Stockholm University) and others, the megalithic structure, known as Ales Stenar (“Ale’s Stones”), was built over 2,500 years ago, during the Scandinavian Bronze Age.
Most archeologists believe that the structure was built about 1,000 years ago, near the end of the Iron Age, as a burial monument.
The new theory claims that Ales Stenar was built as an astronomical calendar with the same underlying geometry as England’s Stonehenge.
“We can now say Stonehenge has a younger sister, but she’s so much more beautiful,” wrote Mörner.
The structure consists of 59 boulders arranged into a pattern of a ship on the coast near what the village of Kåseberga.
Whoever built the monument, arranged the stones—each weighing up to 4,000 pounds (1,800 kilograms)—in the shape of a 220-foot-long (67-meter) ship overlooking the Baltic Sea.
The traditional interpretation given to the site is that it was a burial place for chieftains or other important people.
However, Mörner says his team observed that the sun rises and sets at specific points around Ales Stenar at the summer and winter solstices.
This indicates, he said, that it was possibly built as an astronomical calendar to time things like annual religious ceremonies or planting and harvesting crops.
His team also found that certain aspects of the stone’s geometry “matched those of Stonehenge,” and these similarities led Mörner to propose “the mysterious stone structure of Sweden was a Stonehenge-inspired astronomical calendar constructed by a Bronze Age Scandinavian community that regularly traveled and traded throughout Europe and the Mediterranean.”
“Ales Stenar tells us a lot more than we knew before about trading and travel in the Bronze Age among Scandinavia, England and Greece,” he added.
Mörner’s theories have been dismissed by other Swedish archeologists. “The idea that the stone ship might have been an astronomical calendar has no supporters among academic archaeologists,” Martin Rundkvist, managing editor of the archaeology journal Fornvännen, was quoted as saying.
Ales Stenar was probably an ornate grave marker, he said, adding that the “Swedish countryside is home to many similar megalithic structures, which are generally known as stone ships. Most of them date back to Sweden’s Late Iron Age (approximately A.D. 500-1000), and they serve as burial monuments.”
Ales Stenar was built by members of a war-like community of seafarers who used oxen, slaves, rope, sleds, wooden spades and simple steel tools to collect and raise the huge boulders, Rundkvist said.
“This was the world of Beowulf,” Rundkvist said, referring to the epic poem set in Iron Age Scandinavia.
Ships were an important part of life in this nautical culture, which may have inspired communities to mark the graves of important people with stone ships.
Rundkvist believes there’s no evidence for anything beyond that—including Mörner’s Stonehenge theory.
Whatever the case, it is an incredible site to see, and a recommended highlight for anyone visiting this part of Sweden.