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Ley lines are hypothetical alignments of a number of places of geographical interest, such as ancient monuments and megaliths. Their existence was suggested in 1921 by the amateur archaeologist Alfred Watkins, in his book The Old Straight Track.

The existence of alignments between sites is easily demonstrated. However, the causes of these alignments are disputed. There are several major areas of interpretation:
  • Archaeological: A new area of archaeological study, archaeogeodesy, examines geodesy as practiced in prehistoric time, and as evidenced by archaeological remains. One major aspect of modern geodesy is surveying. As interpreted by geodesy, the so-called ley lines can be the product of ancient surveying, property markings, or commonly travelled pathways. Numerous societies, ancient and modern, employ straight lines between points of use; archaeologists have documented these traditions. Modern surveying also results in placement of constructs in lines on the landscape. It is reasonable to expect human constructs and activity areas to reflect human use of lines.
  • Cultural: Many cultures use straight lines across the landscape. In South America, such lines often are directed towards mountain peaks; the Nazca linesmarker are a famous example of lengthy lines made by ancient cultures. Straight lines connect ancient pyramids in Mexico; today, modern roads built on the ancient roads deviate around the huge pyramids. The Chaco culture of Northwestern New Mexicomarker cut stairs into sandstone cliffs to facilitate keeping roads straight.
  • New Age: The ley lines and their intersection points are believed by David Cowan to resonate a special psychic or mystical energy.
  • Skeptical: Skeptics of the existence of ley lines often classify them as pseudoscience. Such skeptics tend to doubt that ley lines were planned or made by ancient cultures, and argue that apparent ley lines can be readily explained without resorting to extraordinary or pseudoscientific ideas.


Alfred Watkins and The Old Straight Track

The concept of ley lines was first proposed by Alfred Watkins. On 30 June 1921, Watkins visited Blackwardinemarker in Herefordshiremarker, and went riding a horse near some hills in the vicinity of Bredwardinemarker, when he noted that many of the footpaths there seemed to connect one hilltop to another in a straight line. He was studying a map when he noticed places in alignment. "The whole thing came to me in a flash", he later told his son.

However, in September 1870, William Henry Black gave to the British Archaeological Association, in Hereford, a talk titled Boundaries and Landmarks, in which he speculated that "Monuments exist marking grand geometrical lines which cover the whole of Western Europe". It is possible that Watkins's experience stemmed from faint memories of an account of that presentation.

Watkins believed that, in ancient times, when Britain had been far more densely forested, the country had been crisscrossed by a network of straight-line travel routes, with prominent features of the landscape being used as navigation points. This observation was made public at a meeting of the Woolhope Club of Herefordmarker in September 1921. His work referred to G. H. Piper's paper presented to the Woolhope Club in 1882, which noted that:
A line drawn from the Skirrid-fawrmarker mountain northwards to Arthur's Stonemarker would pass over the camp and southern most point of Hatterall Hillmarker, Oldcastlemarker, Longtown Castlemarker, and Urishaymarker and Snodhill castles." The ancient surveyors who supposedly made the lines were given the name "dodmen".

Watkins published his ideas in the books Early British Trackways and The Old Straight Track. They generally met with skepticism from archaeologists, one of whom, O. G. S. Crawford, refused to accept advertisements for the latter book in the journal Antiquity. Most archaeologists since then have continued to reject Watkins's ideas.

In 2004, John Bruno Hare wrote:
Watkins never attributed any supernatural significance to leys; he believed that they were simply pathways that had been used for trade or ceremonial purposes, very ancient in origin, possibly dating back to the Neolithic, certainly pre-Roman. His obsession with leys was a natural outgrowth of his interest in landscape photography and love of the British countryside. He was an intensely rational person with an active intellect, and I think he would be a bit disappointed with some of the fringe aspects of ley lines today".

Despite the mostly negative reception to his ideas, some experts have made observations similar to Watkins's. Megalithic researcher Alexander Thom offered a detailed analysis of megalithic alignments, proposing a standardization of measure by those who built megaliths, but avoided the term ley line. The discovery by Europeans of the Nazca linesmarker, man-made lines on desert pavement in southern Peru, prompted study of their astronomical alignments.

Spiritual Significance of Ley Lines: Magical and Holy lines

Watkins's theories have been adapted by later writers. Some of his ideas were taken up by the occultist Dion Fortune who featured them in her 1936 novel The Goat-footed God. Since then, ley lines have become the subject of a few magical and mystical theories.

Two British dowsers, Captain Robert Boothby and Reginald A. Smith of the British Museummarker, have linked the appearance of ley lines with underground streams and magnetic currents. Guy Underwood conducted various investigations and claimed that crossings of 'negative' water lines and positive aquastats explain why certain sites were chosen as holy. He found so many of these 'double lines' on sacred sites that he named them 'holy lines.'

Separate from other spiritual theories of ley lines (and likely used for propaganda purposes), two German Nazi researchers Wilhelm Teudt and Josef Heinsch have claimed that ancient Teutonic peoples contributed to the construction of a network of astronomical lines, called “Holy lines” (Heilige Linien), which could be mapped onto the geographical layout of ancient or sacred sites. Teudt located the Teutoburger Waldmarker district in Lower Saxonymarker, centered around the dramatic rock formation called Die Externsteinemarker as the centre of Germany. Nazism often employed ideation of superiority and associated Aryan descent with ancient higher cultures, often without regard for archaeological or historic fact. See religious aspects of Nazism.

A skeptical approach: chance alignments

Some skeptics have suggested that ley lines do not exist, and are a product of human fancy. Watkins's discovery happened at a time when Ordnance Surveymarker maps were being marketed for the leisure market, making them reasonably easy and cheap to obtain; this may have been a contributing factor to the popularity of ley line theories.

80 4-point alignments of 137 random points


One suggestion is that, given the high density of historic and prehistoric sites in Britainmarker and other parts of Europe, finding straight lines that "connect" sites (usually selected to make them "fit") is trivial, and may be easily ascribed to coincidence. The diagram to the right shows an example of lines that pass very near to a set of random points: for all practical purposes, they can be regarded as nearly "exact" alignments. Naturally, it is debated whether all ley lines can be accounted for in this way, or whether there are more such lines than would be expected by chance. (For a mathematical treatment of this topic, see alignments of random points.)

Archaeologist Richard Atkinson once demonstrated this point by taking the positions of telephone boxes and pointing out the existence of "telephone box leys". This, he thus argued, showed that the mere existence of such lines in a set of points does not prove that the lines are deliberate artifacts, especially since it is known that telephone boxes were not laid out in any such manner, and without any such intention.

Regarding the trade-route theories, skeptics point out that straight lines do not make ideal roads in all circumstances, particularly where they ignore topography and require users to march up and down hills or mountains, or to cross rivers at points where there is no portage or bridge.

Are alignments and ley lines the same thing?

The existence of the observed alignments is not controversial. Both believers in magical and ancient theories of ley lines and skeptics of these theories agree that these alignments exist between megaliths and ancient sites.

Most skeptics believe that their null hypothesis of ley-line-like alignments as due to random chance is consistent with the evidence. They believe that this consistency removes the need to explain the alignments in any other way. Some Chaos Magicians have views consistent with that approach, claiming it to be in accord with their generative view of chance. Still, others believe that further theories are needed to explain the observed evidence. See hypothesis testing, falsifiability and Occam's razor for more on these topics.

In discussing the arguments for and against the chance presence of ley alignments it is useful to define the term "alignment" precisely enough to reason about it. One precise definition that expresses the generally accepted meaning of Watkins's ley lines defines an alignment as:
a set of points, chosen from a given set of landmark points, all of which lie within at least an arc of 1/4 degree.


Watkins remarked that if this is accepted as the degree of error, then:

"if only three accidentally placed points are on the sheet, the chance of a three point alignment is 1 in 720."


"But this chance by accidental coincidence increases so rapidly in geometric progression with each point added that if ten mark-points are distributed haphazard on a sheet of paper, there is an average probability that there will be one three-point alignment, while if only two more points are added to make twelve points, there is a probability of two three-point alignments."


"It is clear that a three-point alignment must not be accepted as proof of a ley by itself, as a fair number of other eligible points are usually present."


"A ley should not be taken as proved with less than four good mark-points. Three good points with several others of less value like cross roads and coinciding tracks may be sufficient."


The Leyhunter's Manual (page 88), 1927


One should also bear in mind that lines and points on a map cover wide areas on the ground. With 1:63360 (1-inch-to-the-mile) maps a 1/100-inch (1/4 mm) wide line represents a path over 50 feet (15 m) across. And in travelling across a sheet, an angle of 1/4 degree encompasses something like an additional 600 feet (200 m).

Shape analysis

One study by David George Kendall used the techniques of shape analysis to examine the triangles formed by standing stones to deduce if these were often arranged in straight lines. The shape of a triangle can be represented as a point on the sphere, and the distribution of all shapes can be thought of as a distribution over the sphere.The sample distribution from the standing stones was compared with the theoretical distribution to show that the occurrence of straight lines was no more than average.

Ley lines in Chinese culture

In Chinese culture, in feng shui, ley lines are called dragon currents.

Controversy

The demonstration of the plausibility of the current evidence under the null hypothesis is not a formal disproof of ley line claims. However, it does make skeptics likely to consider ley line theories as unsupported by the current evidence.

Most skeptics would be willing to reconsider the hypothesis of ley lines if there were non-anecdotal evidence of physical, geomagnetic or archeological features that actually lie along the lines. Skeptics believe that no such convincing evidence has been presented.

There is a broad range of beliefs about and theories of ley lines, many of which are not falsifiable, and which are thus not generally amenable to the scientific method.

Ley lines in fiction



See also



References

  1. Jacobs, James Q, Archaeogeodesy, a Key to Prehistory
  2. Early British Trackways Index
  3. "A Survey of the Statistical Theory of Shape", by David G. Kendall, Statistical Science, Vol. 4, No. 2 (May, 1989), pp. 87-99
  4. Dragon Currents quote from the book “Kundalini in the physical world” by Mary Scott:


Further reading

  • Alfred Watkins, Early British Trackways (1922)
  • Alfred Watkins, The Old Straight Track: Its Mounds, Beacons, Moats, Sites and Mark Stones (1925); reprinted as ISBN 0-349-13707-2
  • Alfred Watkins, The Ley Hunter's Manual (1927)
  • Tony Wedd, Skyways and Landmarks (1961)
  • Williamson, T. and Bellamy, L., Ley Lines in Question. World's Work Ltd.(1983) ISBN 0-437-19205-9
  • Tom Graves, Needles of Stone (1978) -- mixes ley lines and acupuncture; online edition at [26185]
  • Paul Broadhurst & Hamish Miller The Sun And The Serpent (1989, 1990 (paperback), 1991, 1994, 2003 (paperback)), Pendragon Press, Launceston, Cornwall
  • Bruce L. Cathie, "The Energy Grid"
  • Lucy R Lippard: Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory. New York 1983 ISBN 0-394-54812-8
  • John Michell, A Little History of Astro-archeology, rev. ed. 1989, Thames & Hudson, New York.
  • Alignments connecting London's sacred sites in a significant pattern of sacred geometry are to be found in the books of chris street - Earthstars (1990) and Earthstars The Visionary Landscape (2000)


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