Sunday, November 20, 2011


In a mountainous region of southern Armenia, near the town of Sisian, is an impressive stone setting consisting of over 150 standing stones varying from about one meter (three feet) to 2.8 meters (nine feet) in height. Approximately fifty more stones have now fallen. Of Neolithic date, probably built no later than the third millennium B.C.E. and possibly considerably earlier, the site broadly resembles many better-known megalithic monuments on the Atlantic seaboard of Europe, and particularly in Britain, Ireland, and Brittany. Surrounding a central dolmen is an oval-shaped ring about thirty-five meters (115 feet) in diameter consisting of about forty stones. An avenue runs out from the ring to the northeast, and other rows run north and south.

The site has been interpreted as an astronomical observatory and acclaimed as an Armenian Stonehenge. A distinctive feature of Carahunge is that about eighty of the stones in the north-south rows contained a small circular hole running through their upper section (although only about fifty of these stones survive intact). These curious holes have carefully smoothed edges and are around five centimeters (two inches) in diameter. Some are as much as twenty centimeters (eight inches) deep, opening out into wider depressions carved into each side of the stone. Three holes enter in one side of a stone, turn a right angle and then point directly upwards. An unresolved question is whether the holes, which seem remarkably unweathered if they are indeed prehistoric, were in fact added as a later feature.

A number of Armenian and Russian archaeoastronomers have investigated the possible use of these holes for observations of the sun and moon in prehistoric times. They have established, for example, that three or four of them are directed toward the point of sunrise on the summer solstice and another three or four toward the point of sunset on the same day. Other holes point in a variety of directions, all around the compass. They are also inclined at various angles to the horizontal, mostly up to about fifteen degrees; this means that most are directed toward points in the sky just above the local horizon. These facts raise the serious possibility that the holes were used for astronomical observations, whether contemporary with the construction of the original monument or later. It has even been suggested that the three right-angled holes contained mirrors and were used for zenith observation. To address these issues, a systematic study of the holes that remain in situ, paying careful attention to methodological issues, is urgently needed, because the site is unprotected and threatened by damage from sightseers and looters.

Inevitably there have been other claims—more speculative and less supportable— relating to the astronomical significance of the site. One is that it can be astronomically dated to the sixth millennium B.C.E. And direct comparisons with Stonehenge, which few now believe was an observatory, are less than helpful.

References and further reading Bochkarev, Nikolai. “Ancient Armenian Astroarchaeological Monuments: Personal Impressions of Metsamor and Carahunge.” In Mare Kõiva, Harry Mürk, and Izold Pustõlnik, eds. Cultural Context from Archaeoastronomical Data and the Echoes of Cosmic Catastrophic Events. Tallinn: Estonian Literary Museum and Tartu, Estonia: Tartu Observatory, in press. Herouni, Paris. “The Prehistoric Stone Observatory Carahunge-Carenish.” Reports of NAS of Armenia 4 (1998), 307–328. [In Russian.] Vardanyan, Gurgan. Carahunge: Armenia’s Stonehenge.

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