Goseck circle


Goseck circle

The Goseck circle is a Neolithic structure in Goseck in the Burgenlandkreis district in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. It consists of a set of concentric ditches 75 meters (246 feet) across, and two palisade rings containing gates in defined places. It is considered the earliest sun observatory currently known in Europe. Interpretations of the ring suggest that European Neolithic and Bronze Age people measured the heavens far earlier and more accurately than historians have thought. The site was made public in August 2003. German media have called the site "German Stonehenge," although the use of the term "henge" for structures outside Britain is disputed and it apparently has no bank.

Context

The circle at Goseck is one of more than 250 carefully excavated ring-ditches in Germany, Austria and Croatia identified by aerial surveys, though archaeologists have investigated barely 10% of them. Goloring near Koblenz in western Germany is a similar - if later example. Previously they thought that the enclosures might have been fortifications and were puzzled by the fact that there was no sign of buildings inside the circles.

Not all precisely laid-out Neolithic and Bronze Age European religious, calendrical or astronomical circles were stone circles of megaliths or standing stones; Stonehenge and Mnajdra are atypical examples. Even the Stonehenge site was preceded by a ditch-and-bank enclosure with later-added timbers; their postholes remain. (Holes in the ground are very permanent. For example, when a posthole is left unused, it later fills with sediments, creating a characteristic pattern in an archaeological dig.) Mnajdra and the Maltese megalithic temple complexes are set in a woodless environment.

Description

Goseck ring is one of the best preserved and extensively investigated of the many similar structures built at around the same time. It's preservation and investigation have lead to the belief that it was a solar observatory although some archaeologists question this. In the first opening of the site a state archaeologist Harald Meller called it a milestone in archaeological research.

Traces of the original configuration reveal that the Goseck ring consisted of four concentric circles, a mound, a ditch and two wooden palisades. The palisades had three sets of gates facing southeast, southwest and north. At the winter solstice, observers at the center would have seen the sun rise and set through the southeast and southwest gates. Potsherds at the site suggests that the observatory was built "ca" 4900 BCE because they have linear designs compared to standard chronologies of pottery styles.

The cultural nexus that produced the Circle is called the Stroke-Ornamented Pottery Culture. Archaeologists generally agree that Goseck circle was used for astronomical observation. Together with calendar calculations, it allowed to coordinate an easily judged lunar calendar with the more demanding measurements of a solar calendar, embodied in a spiritual religious context. But archaeologists disagree about whether all circles were used for the same purpose.

Other observations

Excavators also found signs of burning fires, animal and human bones and a headless skeleton near the southeastern gate, possibly a sign of consecration sacrifice.

There is no sign of fire or of other destruction, so why the site was abandoned is unknown. Later villagers built a defensive moat following the ditches of the old enclosure.

Discovery

The first sign of the circle was a 1991 aerial survey photograph that showed circular ridges under a wheat field. The crop marks were easy to see in a season of drought. Francois Bertemes and Peter Biehl of the University of Halle-Wittenberg began a major excavation of the site in 2002. When archaeologists combined the evidence with GPS observations, they noticed that the two southern openings marked the beginning of the summer and winter solstices.

Current status

Bertemes and Biehl have continued the excavation for a few weeks each year. In 2004 a group from the University of California, Berkeley joined the ongoing dig, giving it an international scope.

Archaeologists and state officials have reconstructed the wooden palisade of the circle. Woodworkers worked by hand so that the wooden posts would look more authentic. The site was opened to public on 21 December 2005, the winter solstice.

See also

* Circular ditches
* Linear Ceramic culture
* Neolithic Europe
* Goloring
* Mnajdra

References

* Ulrich Boser - "Solar Circle" ("Archaeology" Magazine July/August 2006)

External links

* [http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa006&articleID=000CDCCF-1783-1FA8-95ED83414B7F0000&pageNumber=1&catID=4 "Scientific American" December 2003:] "Circles for space: German 'Stonehenge' marks oldest observatory."
* [http://www.archaeology.org/0607/abstracts/henge.html Ulrich Boser - Solar Circle (Archaeology Magazine Vol Number 4 July/August 2006)]
* [http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,942824,00.html Essay in English from the Deutsche Welle]


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