Astronomer, known primarily for his work suggesting Stonehenge operated as a Neolithic solar and lunar observatory or calendar, and nicknamed "the father of archaeoastronomy".
Gerald Stanley Hawkins was born on April 20, 1928 in Great Yarmouth, England. He graduated in physics from the University of Nottingham in 1949, and gained his doctorate in radio astronomy from University of Manchester in 1952, studying under Bernard Lovell at the Jodrell Bank radio telescope facility. He became professor of astronomy at Boston University in 1957, and was awarded a DSc for astronomical research at the Harvard-Smithsonian Observatories in 1963. He died of a heart attack on May 26, 2003.
Hawkins published over 150 articles and a dozen books on astronomy during his lifetime, covering subjects such as tektites and cosmology, but his sixty-first article, published in the journal "Nature" in 1963, is the one for which he is primarily recognized. In the article "Stonehenge Decoded" (published in book form in 1965 with co-author John B. White), Hawkins applied an IBM 704 computer to various alignments of key points in the Stonehenge complex. William Stukeley had observed in the 18th Century that the monument aligned with the summer solstice sunrise, appearing "almost" over the Heel Stone, and in 1906, Norman Lockyer had applied celestial mechanics to calculate when the alignment had been precise and use it as a reasonable estimate of the age of this aspect of the monument. But Hawkins' calculations suggested a total of twelve solar and lunar alignments, not only the summer sunrise, but also including the winter solstice sunset and the less obvious extreme points of the moon, and then went on to postulate that the fifty-six Aubrey holes on the outer rim of the monument could have been used to predict lunar eclipses, following an 18.6 year cycle. The reaction to the article surprised the astronomer, and changed our perspective on the ancient monument. In addition, the science of archaeoastronomy came into being, and Hawkins later applied similar analysis to the Nazca lines and the temple of Karnak.
Hawkins received both praise and criticism for his findings, the latter coming mainly from that group of archaeologists who still firmly believed the Stonehenge builders had been, in the words of archaeologist Richard Atkinson, "howling barbarians". In addition, although Hawkins strictly followed the scientific method, his interpretation of the results was often critiqued as a numbers game with statistics and probability. His areas of study were also fertile ground for crackpots. Seemingly innocent statements about the Nazca patterns only being visible from the air were misinterpreted by UFO enthusiasts, and his later work on the appearance of geometry theorems and the diatonic scale ratios in crop circles saw him reservedly state in an interview, "I am just a conventional scientist analyzing this mathematically."
Despite spending most of his life in the United States, Gerald S. Hawkins always had considered himself an Englishman, and had been content to lead a quiet life without seeking the inevitable publicity his findings had produced. His death occurred shortly before another planned return to England to present more lectures on the mysteries of Stonehenge.
The following sources were used during the preparation of this write-up:
Hawkins, Gerald S. Stonehenge Decoded. New York: Doubleday, 1965. London: Souvenir Press, 1966.
Hawkins, Gerald S. Beyond Stonehenge. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.
Pitts, Mike. Obituary: Gerald Hawkins. http://www.guardian.co.uk/obituaries/story/0,3604,1004737,00.html . Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003, accessed Oct 29, 2003.
Leach, Monte. Music of the spheres?. http://www.shareintl.org/archives/crop_circles/cc_ml-music-spheres.htm . From the December 1992 issue of Share International, accessed Oct 29, 2003.