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What Are Ley Lines And Do They Really Exist?

There's a fine line between science and fantasy

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Ben Taub

author

Ben Taub

Freelance Writer

Benjamin holds a Master's degree in anthropology from University College London and has worked in the fields of neuroscience research and mental health treatment.

Freelance Writer

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Ley lines

Believers say sites like Stonehenge were built upon "Earth energy" highways.

Image credit: 1000 Words/Shutterstock.com

Stonehenge, the Pyramids of Giza, and Machu Picchu are just some of the ancient monuments that are said to be connected by mysterious invisible pathways called ley lines. Given how little we know about these spectacular yet enigmatic landmarks, it’s sometimes been difficult for scientists to fully quell this theory or offer alternative explanations as to why they were built exactly where they were. At the same time, however, no one has ever provided any compelling evidence to confirm the existence of this unseen mystical grid. 

To further complicate the landscape, there’s no consensus on what ley lines even are, with some believers proposing they may have served as ancient trading routes while others think aliens are somehow involved. From a scientific perspective, it’s very rocky terrain.

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Ley Lines: Neolithic Tracks Or "Earth Energies"

The concept of ley lines was first proposed by English antiquarian Alfred Watkins in 1925. Laying out the concept in his book The Old Straight Track, Watkins revealed that the idea came to him while traveling through rural Herefordshire one day, when he suddenly noticed that ancient monuments appeared to be arranged in a grid of straight lines that stood out like "glowing wires all over the surface of the county.”

Seeking to prove his point by highlighting alignments between burial mounds, stone crosses, churches, holy wells, standing stones, beacon hills, and other landmarks, Watkins suggested that these features were deliberately constructed along straight pathways so that Stone Age traders could follow the most direct route between settlements.

Almost immediately, however, the archaeological community saw numerous potholes in the road. For example, the fact that Watkins used maps to illustrate these alignments blinded him to the fact that, in the real world, many of these landmarks were separated by tall hills, dense forests, or rivers – meaning it was often impossible to follow a straight path from one point to the next.

More significantly, however, the sheer density of these features in the English landscape means that it’s pretty much impossible to draw a line on a map without touching upon at least a few of these. In other words, the accidental alignment of monuments is inevitable given their abundance, so to even mention this pattern of distribution is something of a moot point.

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Dismissed by the scientific community, Watkins’ ley lines idea hit the end of the road - but then the sixties happened. 

In 1961, former military pilot Tony Wedd relit the fire by suggesting that ley lines were laid out by prehistoric monument builders to provide runways for alien spacecraft. Believers in this theory swear that UFO sightings are most commonly reported directly above these ley lines, although unsurprisingly no one has ever presented any evidence for this.

It wasn’t until 1969, however, that the idea really took flight, largely thanks to John Michell’s New Age book The View Over Atlantis, in which he introduced the concept of Earth energies. Speaking to IFLScience, archaeologist Dr Robert Wallis from the Open University explained that the view was “these are sort of the spiritual arteries of the planet, and there’s a belief that through psychic awareness, or dowsing, particularly at ancient sites, it’s possible to sense these energies.”

The idea behind Earth energies is therefore that ancient societies were somehow more attuned than we are to these power lines running through the landscape, and built their monuments directly on top of these sacred pathways. As the idea spread, a community of so-called ley hunters sprung up in the UK – members of which could often be seen bumbling around Neolithic sites holding dowsing rods in an attempt to detect these Earth energies. 

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In the 1970s, Paul Devereux - who at the time was the editor of the Ley Hunter magazine - set up a research initiative called The Dragon Project to scientifically investigate these supposed mysterious power centers (more on that later). Wallis, who joined the project in the early 2000s, says the popularity of the Earth energies concept probably has something to do with the fact that it challenged people to try and tap into this force themselves. 

“One reason it's a particularly powerful idea, whether it's reliable or not, is because it's something that anyone can have a go at.” He said. “Anyone can go to a mysterious ancient site with a pair of dowsing rods and do some dowsing and the rods move. It's something that you can experience for yourself.”

Laying The Idea To Rest

When the Dragon Project first started up in 1977, Devereaux and his multidisciplinary team of scientists hoped to find solid evidence for the existence of Earth energies. For the first decade of the project’s existence, they went from ancient site to ancient site looking for anomalous readings of ionizing radiation, magnetism, and other invisible forces. Focusing the bulk of their attention on a Neolithic site called the Rollright Stones, the team used techniques including infra-red photography and ultrasound to try and seek out these energies.

After ten years of looking, however, the researchers ultimately found nothing to suggest that Earth energies are actually a thing, despite obtaining a few interesting readings here and there. For example, Wallis says that “there was increased radioactivity at certain sites, but there are no definable patterns that add up to a particular interpretation which holds more weight than any other.”

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In addition to these scientific methods, the Dragon Project also recruited dowsers to try and detect electromagnetism at these sites using their little sticks. Even they, however, were unable to detect anything that might hint at the presence of ley lines. 

Not ready to give up just yet, the project’s directors decided to change tack in 1987 and focus their efforts on “dreamwork”. This essentially involved asking volunteers to sleep at ancient sites to see how this affected their dreams. Exactly how this approach could ever be used to prove the existence of Earth energies or ley lines is unclear, although, unsurprisingly, the experiment failed to yield any useful data at all.

“Ultimately, the findings were that, yeah, there did seem to be a likelihood that sleeping at prehistoric sites did raise some interesting dream phenomena. But again, no patterns,” said Wallis. “And it's difficult to say whether or not that was to do with someone sleeping in a very strange location, where they're not used to sleeping, which probably would inspire some strange dreams.”

“So that was really the main reason why Paul Devereaux and the Dragon Project Trust moved away from ley lines and the idea they were Earth energies.”

Chance Alignments?

The concept of energetic power lines running through the landscape may not be aligned with scientific fact, but some ley line enthusiasts continue to claim that prehistoric sites were built in alignment with each other. To make their argument, many point to the popular "St. Michael’s line", which supposedly connects a large number of monuments dedicated to the Archangel Michael, including the iconic St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, traversing some 350 miles (563 kilometers) of terrain to the Norfolk coast.

To counter this claim, mathematicians have repeatedly demonstrated how unconnected sites can easily appear linked when lines are drawn on maps. For example, Matt Parker from Queen Mary University of London revealed how ley lines could be identified linking the former locations of Woolworths stores across the UK.

He also showed how every single postcode in Britain is aligned with at least three ley lines, highlighting the ridiculousness of the whole concept. As Parker’s work demonstrates, the problem with ley lines is that there are so many ancient sites in the UK, and this number increases when you start counting churches, wells, and other conveniently placed features as ley markers. By picking and choosing the sites that line up with one another and ignoring the rest, it’s pretty easy to find a pattern that doesn’t really exist.

In that sense, ley lines are the perfect illustration of the mathematical concept known as the Ramsey Theory, which basically states that you can find any pattern you want as long as you have enough random data points to choose from.

Global Ley Lines

While the idea of ley lines has always been predominantly centered around the UK, some believe the prehistoric highways extend across the planet, linking monuments in separate countries and different continents. However, if there are enough sites in the UK to enable the fabrication of ley lines, then the task becomes even easier when you include the hundreds of thousands of ancient sites around the world.

Having said that, there are a few examples of intentionally aligned monuments stretching across vast areas, with the most notable being in South America. 

For example, the Inca Empire was dissected by a series of ritual pathways known as ceques, which radiated out from the capital, Cuzco, and extended towards the outer edges of the kingdom. Along these straight lines, the pre-Hispanic culture placed ceremonial markers known as Wak’as, although it’s still unclear exactly why they did this or how they determined the trajectory of each ceque.

In China, meanwhile, the ancient art of Feng Shui was developed as a means of arranging landscape features to ensure a harmonious flow of the universal energy called Qi. Though not entirely the same as Earth energies, there are some clear similarities between this philosophy and the New Age idea of ley lines.

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And so, with all that said, it’s probably time to draw a line under the whole ley concept. Or, as Dr Wallis says, “I think it’s fantasy, basically.”


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