Saxony’s Sun Sanctuary

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A project to reconstruct a 5000 BC henge monument, interpreted as a solar observatory, the oldest of its kind in Europe, has just begun at Goseck in the German state of Saxony.

The ambitious reconstruction, which is estimated to cost a total of 100,000 euros (c.£70,000) at its completion, should be finished by the end of 2005. The restored observatory will join the growing list of increasingly popular ‘Sky Way’ attractions of ancient sites related to the study of astronomy.

Over 200 henge monuments are known in central Europe, but Gosek henge, situated in an area rich in ancient heritage sites in Saxony-Anhalt, is one of the oldest henge-sanctuaries since it is thought to have been built around 4900 years BC.

This attribution derives from the presence of a considerable amount of Stickbandkeramik, a type of pottery that was frequent in the earliest stage of the Neolithic. This agrees with a radiocarbon analysis that provides a date of between 4,800 and 5,000 BC (calibrated).

The henge was first spotted from aerial photography. Its massive circular ring (75m in diameter) was unearthed by archaeologists in 1993. In 2003, a team of experts under the direction of Professor Francois Bertemes uncovered the main hall area. ‘One main function of this monument was to observe and predict the summer and winter solstices’, Bertemes told CWA.

Its interpretation as a solar observatory comes from the alignment of two of the henge’s entrances: experts say that the southeast gate of the observatory corresponds to the exact point where the sun rose at the beginning of the winter solstice on December 21 almost 7,000 years ago. The southwest gate is believed to be the corresponding point to the sunset on that same date. The third entrance points somewhat vaguely to the north, though it appears to be several degrees out by modern measurements.

It is certainly providing the archaeologists with further food for thought into the spiritual-religious world of Europe’s first farmers. Moreover, its interpretation as an ‘observatory’ feeds into the possible significance/ legitimacy of the Nebra disc. The infamous sky disc of Nebra, said to have been found by illicit metal-detectorists, was discovered only 23 km from the henge. Though the disc dates to 1,600 BC, and is therefore very much younger than Gosek Henge, it too has been interpreted in astronomical terms.

This article is an extract from the full article published in World Archaeology Issue 12. Click here to subscribe

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