Maeshowe research project
Internet broadcast and capturing winter solstice sunset
Author: Victor Reijs
Date: Feb. 8, 2000
This years project has resulted in more information on the possible
megalithic use of Maeshowe and its environment. Reappearing sun light
inside Maeshowe has been seen on Jan 12th, 2000 and from the
entrance of Maeshowe it has almost been witnessed on Feb. 1st,
2000. Calculating back to 2800 BC, these reappearings are around 23
44 days before/after winter solstice. This could be related to the possible
megalithic calendar which is proposed by A. Thom. Beside these
at Maeshowe, reappearing sun at winter solstice itself has also been
near Brodgar Farm. Measurements predict that this would also happen
the settlement at Breckness. The questions if buildings on Orkney are
around this reappearing sun is still open. More study will be done in
This year three cameras (for grabbing a) the light on the back wall,
b) the light in the passage and c) the sun on the horizon) were daily
pictures on the Internet. Stills and videos are produced on the above
Furthermore experience has been gained with streaming of video
using the QuickTime Streaming Server and Player.
The initiators of the project (Victor Reijs, Charles Tait and Historic
Scotland) appreciated the sponsoring from HEAnet Ltd, Orkney Tourist
V.J.T.M. Reijs and SURFnet bv very highly.
The goals of project
The goals of the project are taken from the
Enhancing the present information of Maeshowe
Broadcasting the sunset from Maeshowe chamber
Videotaping (including time stamping) the sunsets in the chamber of
Howe from end beginning Dec. 1999 until beginning Feb. 2000, so as to
the reappearing sun around 20 days and 42 days before and after winter
Make still pictures of the sunsets at Maeshowe (with digital camera).
Reappearing at other locations.
Effects of the broadcasting with relation to Orkney/Maeshowe visits
Have frequently updated pictures on The Internet
Presenting the sunset at the visitor center in Tormiston Mill
Investigate, through Historic Scotland and Orkney Tourist Board, if
project has increased the amount of visitors for Maeshowe and Orkney in
general in 1998/1999.
The history of project
The history of this project concerning the broadcasting of the sunset
researching the alignments around winter solstice at Maeshowe is
forward, and rather unusual:
In December 1996 Lowell McFarland posted a message on the Internet
a question if somebody was thinking about putting a camera at
His interest is the pagan relation with winter solstice
Because Victor Reijs's interest is in
he got the idea of putting a web camera in Maeshowe for finalizing
the modeling of and measurements on Maeshowe, which he had been
since beginning of 1996.
Whilst looking at Neolithic sites on the Internet in early 1997, Charles
Tait who is a photographer and publisher from Orkney with a
interest in archaeology and local history, found Victor's Maeshowe
He has been interested in the Maeshowe alignments for many years, and
was at once interested in Victor's proposals. This resulted
ultimately in the present collaboration, particularly in
the necessary local backing on public relations
and television stations, Orkney Tourist Board and Orkney Islands
local customs. Charles Tait has long been interested in Maes
Howe, having first introduced to the winter solstice sunset by his
grandfather, Charles William Tait, as a small boy in the early 1950's.
C.W. Tait actually wrote a magazine article about the alignment before
World War 2. In fact it is something of a family tradition to
Maeshowe each winter.
Aerial view of Maeshowe
Victor Reijs started by negotiations with Historic
Scotland for permission to place cameras within Maeshowe
winter solstice 1997. The fact that the research results are now able
be presented, is due to Historic Scotland's willing provision of
pilot project has been a great success for already three years now and
proved for the first time in the world that this kind of broadcast from
a megalithic building is possible!
More history on the steps from the beginning to the present status
of this project, can be found on the diary
The results of the project
Enhancing the present information/model of Maeshowe
The major investigations have been on several issues around winter
solstice (this year on Dec. 22nd, 1999):
Broadcasting the sunset from Maeshowe chamber
Reappearing within Maeshowe
Due to the weather (too many clouds) reappearing around Dec. 1st
1999 has not been witnessed. Reappearing has been witnessed on Jan. 12th,
2000, an animated picture and a
video are available on the web.
Sun light on back wall of Maeshowe on Jan. 12th,
2000 at 15:27 BST
Due to the relatively long reappearing period (4 minutes) on Jan
2000, it is expected that on the day before (Jan 11th, 2000)
the sun would also have reappeared.
An overview of reappearance's witnessed in former project years,
according to the days around winter solstice (deducted from
daily overview of sunny days):
-: no reappearing sun light
begin. Dec. 1997
mid Jan. 1998
begin. Dec. 1998
mid Jan. 1999
begin. Dec. 1999
mid Jan. 2000
?: unknown if reappearing happened (clouds or no
+: reappearing sun light witnessed (duration in
and azimuth of sun when upper rim apparent altitude is just above 1°)
The method Halving the difference [mentioned in Ruggles]
can also be used here. In 1997, winter solstice would be 19 days form
reappearing. In 1998 and 1999, winter solstice would be 20 days from
sun sunlight in Maeshowe.
Between 19/20 days before and after winter solstice the sun
present time, this would be around 22/23 days at 2800 BC. There could
a relation with one megalithic Month of A. Thom [Thom].
More general information on the (reappearing) sun light at Maeshowe
can be seen on the web (video's, background,
pictures and CD-ROM).
- Reappearing sun from behind Kame of Hoy at Maeshowe
Almost a reappearing sun on Feb. 1st, 2000. The sun set
at the correct location behind the Cuilags [MacKie],
but before it reappeared behind Kame of Hoy, clouds had come in:-(
Sun set behind Cuilags on Feb. 1st,
at 16:18 UTC.
Perhaps on Feb. 2nd, 2000 the sun could have reappeared,
but again: no sun due to clouds!
So 41 days before or after winter solstice the sun reappears in
time and this would have been some 44 days at 2800 BC. So there could
a relation with two megalithic Months of A. Thom [Thom].
- Reappearing sun at other sites
A study [Reijs] has
been done by Victor Reijs to see if reappearing could be seen also from
other locations then Maeshowe. A few candidates have been selected
Farm and Breckness [near Stromness]) to be investigated around winter
1999. Because there was only one sunny day during this year's visit,
one site has been video
taped: Brodgar Farm. So this year, for the first time ever, the
has been taped near Brodgar Farm. More information on possible ideas
been found on the web.
- Chance of sun light on back wall
In the below picture one can see the chance of sun light on the back
wall in the period 1997 - 2000 (December to January months):
In 80% of the days there is no sun on the back wall, while in 10% of
the sun shines the maximum daily amount of time on the back wall.
- A VRML/3D web camera
A start have been made with a VRML/3D
- A discussion
on archaeoastronomy has been set up.
Web site set up
Two web sites (one in Ireland and one
in The Netherlands) were set up, to be able to handle possible high
traffic. At the end this was not necessary. The URL
in the press releases pointed to the Irish site. The Dutch site still
some 20% of the total hits, these hits will have come from people that
had bookmarked the Maeshowe site in the earlier years and through
machines (like Altavista and Yahoo).
The three frequently (every 1 minutes and every 15 minutes) updated
pictures were stored on the SURFnet
server in the Netherlands.
Two IAP dial-in accounts were used:
The following software has been used:
one using demon.nl for downloading (through ISDN) the frequently
pictures towards the Dutch web server
one using demon.co.uk for presenting (through PSTN) the web site within
We had once in a while (on average, twice a week) connectivity
We assume they are caused by the ISDN service of BT. Windows98 Dial-up
networking gives errors 'Unable to establish connection' and after
that it waits for a press on the Enter key:-( Because nobody is
present, the key is not pressed and the connection does not come up.
Is used for remote management of the PC at Maeshowe. The problem is
that it sometimes does not let you in (reason unknown).
For grabbing the pictures of the web cam. The main problem with this
software is that it seems to initialize the hardware device (winnov)
wrong, so sometimes a black thick line is seen on the picture.
For keeping the clock on the Maeshowe PC synchronous with UTC.
A few solutions are possible:
wait until the Windows98 Dial-up networking program is better
wait until the ISDN service of BT is better (when???)
have the PC rebooted by cutting the power (is now done twice a day with
the help of a clock), this is not enough to have a smooth site!!!
have a program that gives every 5 minutes a simulate Enter (a
instead of an ISDN card in the PC, have a ISDN router (an expensive but
Hits on the web site
The following table gives an idea of the number of hits over the years:
A list of some 200 e-mail addresses has been used to send the
press release of the megalithic cam page of Maeshowe. This
included individuals, magazines, newspapers, television and radio
in UK, NL, IRL, US and BE. Furthermore, several electronic distribution
lists were part of the list (the span of these distribution lists is
500-700 people). Thus at least some 1,000 people saw the announcement
the pages through The Internet.
Historic Scotland has published an article in their monthly magazine
December 1999 and put on their Season's greeting card the URL of
the Maeshowe web site.
Orkney Tourist Board published a joint press release with the
of the project around mid December 1999.
A very important generator of hits during Dec. 21st, 1999
the Newgrange site. This
(set up by RTE) has broadcasted the sunrise from Newgrange and has been
visited by some 50,000 people in a few days. On this site was only one
external link; our Maeshowe site!!!
Three newspaper articles (The Orcadian, Scotsman and another newspaper)
The web cam has transmitted the renewal of
(handfasting ceremony) of a married couple over the Internet.
hits during period
hits during Dec. and Jan.
hits on Dec. 21st
hits on Dec. 22nd
Dec. 1997/Nov. 1998
Dec. 1998/Nov. 1999
Dec. 1999/Nov. 2000
Dec. 2000/Nov. 2001
* some 700 hits came from the Newgrange
site between 09:00 and 12:00 BST
Effects of the broadcasting with relation to Orkney/Maeshowe visits
This is under investigation by Orkney Tourist
Board and Historic Scotland. Orkney Tourist Board will do a survey in
2000 and the effects for the tourism due to the Internet will be part
this survey. Historic Scotland has heard that people visiting Maeshowe,
first checked the web site before coming. They were not only Orcadians,
but also people from USA and England.
So the overall results of our own information flow is
total number of hits in the period 1999/2000 was stable compared to the
early two periods, and the number of hits on the Dec. 21st
Dec. 22nd increased with some 200 (15% increase).
Of the14,000 total hits in the year period 1999/2000; about 24 % will
come from USA, 20% from UK, 3% form IRL and 3% from NL. During the
sunsets (14:30 - 15:15 BST) we had some 20% of these total hits.
Sites linked through the main page were visited by about 5-10%
total hits, making this megalithic cam page interesting for the
Charles Tait's Maes
Howe and Neolithic Orkney site has reached also a considerable
of hits (some 375 on Dec. 21st, 1999) due to local
(radio and newspapers).
Well over 150 individual reactions (e-mails and guest
book) were received with positive reactions (and no negative
were received!). In fact favorable comments both verbal and digital are
still coming in.
- Experience with QuickTime
Player and Darwin/QuickTime
In the earlier projects experience has been gotten with streaming video
from Maeshowe by using RealNetworks
products (RealProducer and RealPlayer) and Microsoft
(Windows Media). This year streaming has been tested with Apple
products (QuickTime Player and Darwin Streaming Server). No real
tests from Maeshowe have because the tools that could be used (vic
of UCL, IP/TV
of Cisco, etc.) are not self starting, so manual start-up should
been needed. So only home based tests have been done.
Streaming IP-multicast (tested with I-Studio or IP/TV) and IP-unicast
(tested with vic and rat) towards the Darwin/QuickTime Streaming Server
is working and can be seen with QuickTime 4
(using IP unicast).
- Copyright of pictures and video's
All web cam pictures made between the Dec. 1st, 1999 and
Feb. 6th, 2000 with the PC at Maeshowe, are copyrighted by
Reappear (shared by Victor Reijs and Charles Tait). All
other pictures/videos are copyrighted by the owners of the recording
The pilot project was a private initiative by Victor Reijs and Charles
Tait, with some very welcome help from sponsors. This project has
around £ 2,400 (excluding man power of: Victor Reijs, Charles
and Historic Scotland). With the help of the initiators and the
this has not always been real money (around £ 1,950 coming from:
Historic Scotland, HEAnet Ltd., SURFnet bv, OTB/OE and V.J.T.M. Reijs),
a considerable amount of money has been received from Historic
because of the provisioning of a link from the Maeshowe site towards
The costs of over the years:
Support by sponsors
The Maeshowe research project 1999/2000 was
on the following issues successful:
The amount of sun light in the period of broadcasting (Dec. 1st,
1999 until Feb. 6th, 2000) was terrible
low, but we are glad we were not able to change that by means of
The reappearing sun has been witnessed at one
location (near Brodgar Farm). More
needs to be done, to see if this reappearing was really intentionally
by megalithic people.
The three camera
is a success. Together with the weather
page of Charles Tait, it is now much better for people to see what
the weather is like outside and it gave a much better sense how the sun
penetrates the chamber (the pictures of the passage way were great when
the sun was shining). A start have been made with a VRML/3D
Test have been successfully done with
using the Darwin Streaming Server and QuickTime
Player (both Apple products).
The technology problems with the Internet
become less and less. Hopefully the ISDN problems will diminish as soon
as more capacity is available in the national ISDN network of BT or any
other telecommunications provider.
of the people is continuing at the same level (around 13,000 hits
year), so we have a steady group of people to watch this unique event.
Some 5-10% of this group links through our pages to others, which
a sounds market for sponsors.
To share this interest in this site, a link
site has been provided so that people can donate every day a few
The PR function of the Maeshowe
site seems to increase. First of all this is recorded by people
the mound and also due to the fact that Historic Scotland found it
to have the Maeshowe web site link on their Season's greeting card.
A lot of positive
reactions have been recorded on the lay-out of the site. A more
investigation will be done by OTB in May 2000.
The amount of equipment that is dedicated
to the project is increasing (ISDN connections, telephone modem, water
proof camera container and UTP Cat5 cables). Furthermore there is a lot
of equipment that can be borrowed from the initiators (Charles Tait and
Victor Reijs) and sponsors (HEAnet Ltd, OTB/IE) on a fairly stable
It was great to receive money without strings
(from Historic Scotland)! This enabled e.g. the travel of the project
towards Orkney in December 1999.
It is hoped that this successful project will continue in the coming
years with the same level of support from sponsors! We still have
to learn, and that is an important goal for the continuation of a
Organizations that helped this project
We would like to thank the following organizations for helping this
with their sponsoring support:
Providing the idea for this project, the
management, web space, still photography (stereo and panorama
man power, ISP service and lending one camera's, the video grabber, the
web cam software and the video recorder.
Providing access towards Maeshowe, an ISDN
line, UTP Cat5 cables inside Maeshowe, a considerable amount of money
due to services provided by Maeshowe site (a link), and man power to
Providing enthusiastic ideas for progressing
the project, professional still photography, man power, IAP service and
lending the PC at Tormiston Mill.
- SURFnet bv
Providing web space for the web cam pictures,
support on testing streaming services using the Darwin Streaming Server
(QuickTime Player streaming) and lending the ISDN card and PC->TV
- HEAnet Ltd.
Lending the Maeshowe PC (incl. shipment towards
- V.J.T.M. Reijs
Providing the travel insurance.
Tourist Board and Orkney
Providing the telephone modem at Tormiston
the waterproof camera container and lending two video camera's.
People that helped this project
The list of people that have worked to reached the above goals has
quite long, but without them, one way or the other, the results of this
project would have been less. So here are all the participants (between
brackets, the organization they are part of):
Patrick Ashmore (Historic Scotland), Ivana Belgers (SURFnet Expertise
Centrum), Wim Biemolt (SURFnet Expertise Centrum), John Boland (HEAnet
Ltd), Gareth Crichton (OTB), Sally Foster (Historic Scotland), Derry
(Historic Scotland), Joke Jansman, Alan Jones (Historic Scotland),
Kinsey (Historic Scotland), Moira Moncrieff (Historic Scotland),
Tait (Charles Tait photographic), Erlend Tait (J&W Tait Ltd),
Tait, Sandra Tait, Colin Reid (Historic Scotland), Victor Reijs
Victor Reijs (senior), Egon Verharen (SURFnet bv) and Andrew Wilson.
Maeshowe, Ashmore P., HMSO, Historic Scotland, ISBN 1 900168 06 5,
Maeshowe, Childe, V.G., Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries
of Scotland, 88, 1956, page 155-171
Antiquities of Stenness parish, Frazer, J. Proceedings of the Orkney
Antiquarian Society, 4, 1925, page 18-22
The chambered cairns of Orkney, Davidson J.L., Henshall A.S., Edinburgh
University Press, ISBN 0 85224 547 5, 1989.
Maeshowe and the winter solstice ceremonial aspects of the Orkney
Ware culture, MacKie E.W., Antiquity 71 (1997): 338-59.
Notice of the opening of a tumulus in the parish of Stenness on the
mainland of Orkney, Petrie, G., Archaeological Journal, 18, page
Maeshowe's Megalithic Month alignment, Reijs, V.M.M., 3rd Stone, 32,
Maeshowe research project 1997/1998 report, Reijs, V.M.M., Tait C.,
April 2, 1998.
Astronomy in prehistoric Britain and Ireland, Ruggles, C., Yale
Press, London, 1999, ISBN 0-300-07814-5
Notice of excavations in the chambered mound of Maeshowe in Orkney,
Stuart, J., Proceedings of the society of Antiquity of Scotland, 5,
The Orkney Guide Book, Charles Tait photographic, Orkney, 1999, ISBN
0 9517859 15
Megalithic sites in Britain, Thom A., Clarendon
Press, Oxford, 1967
Last major content related changes: Feb 8th, 2000