Archaeoastronomy and the Auckland Isthmus

by Martin Doutré

Many ancient civilisations were preoccupied with astronomy and keeping accurate calendar systems.  By observations of the Sun’s movements annually and recording its Solstice and Equinox positions, a careful count of days beyond these events, would determine when to plant, harvest, celebrate festivals or observe holy days.  Solar movement, throughout the year, was the primary tool for determining the timing of significant events by civilisations world-wide.

An emerging science, here in New Zealand, is Archaeo-astronomy and researchers, assessing ancient New Zealand sites, are beginning to find a strong astronomical component in the ruined stone structures or excavations scattered throughout the country.

Many marker stones or stone circle sites were set up in ancient New Zealand for accurately determining the Solar Equinoxes or Solstices, as well as for more refined stellar fixes.

The 20th of March marked the first Equinox of the new millennium and our Auckland (New Zealand) based archaeo-astronomical group, wanted to re-establish recognition, at the time of the Equinox, of how a small section of the ancient astronomical alignment system of the Auckland Isthmus formerly worked.

This was a part of the system set up by the once numerous, stone-working people, some of whom Polynesian Maori called the Patu-pai-arehe, also referred to in Maori oral traditions as the “fairy folk”.

Using the 36 volcanic hills of the Auckland Isthmus, the pre-Polynesian Patu-pai-arehe devised and built a complex astronomical alignment system.  One small part of this system related to a perfect east-west Equinox line, which ran from ancient stone markers, found by 19th century surveyors, on Stockade Hill, Howick, a suburb of Auckland.

The line from Stockade Hill continued through the crest trench in the volcanic rim of Mt. Wellington, many kilometres directly west and then dissected an ancient standing stone marker on Mt Albert, further west again.  The Coromandel and Waitakere Ranges provided additional extensions to this perfect east-west dissection of the Isthmus.

Mt. Wellington

Mt. Wellington was modified by the ancient Patu-pai-arehe by cutting a “V” into the crest.  This marks the setting position of the equinoctial Sun, as observed from the centre summit of Stockade Hill.  Early colonial surveyors noted the existence of pillars of stone and other, smaller stones in circular placement, atop Stockade Hill. These were later moved when a military stockade was built during the 1800’s.

The ‘V’ looking towards Mt. Albert

The picture left looks westward through the Mt. Wellington “V”, over the hill’s volcanic cone, toward Mt. Albert, where the large, original equinox marker stone still resides, adjacent to the modern day trig point.  Archaeo-astronomer, Alan Seath, has identified about 135 significant alignments onto Solar or stellar positions, coupled with overland mapping functions, originating from marked positions on these 36 Auckland hills.  One hill uses another, more distant, hill or range as the target outer marker for a celestial event.

A group of enthusiasts, researchers and media representatives assembled on Stockade Hill, before sunset on the 20th of March 2000 to witness the equinoctial Sun’s descent into the trench on Mt. Wellington.  The Sun’s journey down to its age-old equinox position was accompanied by the musical strains of a lone, Scottish piper, Bryan Mitchell.  The ceremony, to re-establish recognition of the ancient astronomers of the Auckland Isthmus, was both moving and visually spectacular.

The equinox sun sets into the V at Mt. Wellington

Much of the sculpturing of the Auckland hills was for astronomy, although the larger plateaux are reminiscent of Celtic hill forts.  There is, however, almost no evidence of “palisading” (defensive post barrier walls) on any of the hills, which suggests that the hills were not used as fortified positions.  All available evidence suggests a predominant astronomical usage.

These New Zealand astronomical alignment systems are an exact counterpart to surviving marker systems from Great Britain’s Megalithic Age.  A growing body of evidence establishes a link between civilizations of these two regions of the world and a part of that evidence relates to remains of red, brown or blond-haired Indo-European skeletons, found in ancient burial caves throughout New Zealand.

© 2002 Martin Doutré & BSD EEG