Solstice Sites – Five Solstice Sites That Are Not Stonehenge

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WWith the summer solstice approaching in the northern hemisphere, the Stonehenge site is likely to appear a bit on your news feeds. While this particular Neolithic monument is perhaps the best-known example of an ancient celestial calendar, there are many other examples from different eras and from around the world. Tracing the movement of the sun and other stars to track important seasonal events is something that many cultures have in common.

In the celebration of the solstice, here are five more archaeological examples of calendar monuments believed to have been created to mark the longest and shortest days of the year.

1. PETRA, JORDAN

The Nabataean civilization built the famous city of Petra to align the sun with and illuminate important religious centers in the city during the solstices.

The complex of tombs and monuments is perhaps best known as the final backdrop in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade for the search for the “Holy Grail” by the protagonist. In real life, Petra is an important archaeological site, created by a culture that ruled a spice empire from around the 4th century BC until 106 AD.

RThe researchers performed a statistical analysis of the orientation of sacred buildings in Petra and determined that the effects of light and shadow on these buildings played a major role in their design and construction. This suggests that the sky, and probably a particular solar deity, was particularly important in Nabataean religion. The Nabataean culture left very few examples of written records and the traditions of civilization no longer exist. Petra therefore provides a tantalizing clue of what certain Nabataean religious observances may have been.

Petra, sometimes called “Pink City” after the color of the stone it is carved from, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Prasit Chansareekorn / Getty Images

2. SPIRO MOUNDS, OKLAHOMA

TThe 12 earthwork mounds at the Spiro archaeological site, just outside the town of Spiro, Oklahoma, were constructed so that their shadows seemed to uniquely line up as the sun rose and set at the seasonal equinoxes and solstices.

TThe site was established during the Mississippian Period, around AD 800-1650. At its peak, ancient Spiro had a population of at least several thousand people, and although it was not the largest a well-known Mississippi city, it was considered an important ceremonial center.

UUnfortunately, relatively little is known about the site or the people who lived there. Beginning in 1933, a group of commercial diggers calling themselves the Pocola Mining Company acquired land rights to one of the mounds and dug for the express purpose of removing artifacts. They mined whatever they considered salable, discarding the rest. Today, the site is protected and welcomes walking tours.

3. NABTA PLAYA, EGYPT

On of the oldest known megalithic calendar sites in the world were built around 7,000 years ago in what was once the bed of a lake in the African Sahara. It has been suggested that an inner circle of stones at Nabta Playa might have helped with calendar measurements and some outer megaliths once aligned with significant stars – although a 2010 report from the International Council on Monuments and Sites states ” whether this was intentional, and how the site is to be interpreted, is very controversial.

TThe archeology of the site suggests that the people who built it were a nomadic group of pastoralists who raised cattle across the Sahara region. The climate at this time included a summer monsoon season that filled the seasonal lakes, or playas, making them habitable part of the year. In an often featureless desert expanse, the megaliths of Nabta Playa would have provided a visual marker, perhaps a beacon for travelers moving their herds to a known oasis.

The rocks, placed flat and upright, rest in a circle in the orange sand.

The 7,000-year-old Nabta Playa calendar circle was reproduced at the Nubia Museum in Aswan, Egypt. Raymbetz / Wikimedia

4. BIG ROCK, CALIFORNIA

A A specially carved boulder in Los Angeles County, California has been interpreted as a solstice calendar by tribal archaeologist Gary Stickel, who works for the Gabrieleño Band of the Kizh Nation.

Stickel was working to preserve art that was damaged by weather and graffiti on a large boulder known as Big Rock when he noticed a small hole deliberately dug in the boulder. The shape of the hole corresponds to a known type of Aboriginal artifact known as a solar stone or tooth stone, which usually has five protrusions around the edge. Such an object, placed upright in the hole, seems to align itself like a sundial with the cardinal directions during the solstices.

IIt is hoped that the preservation of some discolored pictographs on the stone, which can be seen more clearly in an early 20th century photograph and which were written in 19th century documents, will allow archaeologists to determine the role that Big Rock occupied. within the life religion of the Kizh people. Rock art may have already depicted elements of Kizh’s creation story and may also have played a possible role in fertility rituals for young women.

5. GOSECK CIRCLE, GERMANY

In 1991, aerial photographs of a wheat field in Goseck, Germany, showed dark ridges in a circle, with marked gaps at three points roughly evenly spaced around its circumference.

When archaeologists excavated the land in 2002, they found the remains of a circular wooden wall surrounded on the outside by a narrow ditch. The holes in the circle appear to be purposefully constructed to follow sunrise and sunset during the summer and winter solstices. The enclosure dates from the Neolithic period, around 4900 BC. (Roughly the same date as the Nabta Playa Stone Circle) and appears to have been in use for around 200 years.

Eexcavations have revealed human skeletons and cattle bones, especially skulls, suggesting the possibility of ritual sacrifices. The site’s wooden walls were rebuilt in the early 2000s, and the site is now open to the public.

In a field of green grass, a large mound of earth rises.  On the mound, two circles of wooden fences pierced with openings are surrounded by a ditch.

Goseck’s circle in today’s Germany marks the winter and summer solstices with doors that open to the rising and setting sun. Pierre Lesage / Flickr



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