The Ancient Earthworks of Ukraine May Be the Biggest Solar Observatory in the World

The Ancient Earthworks of Ukraine May Be the Biggest Solar Observatory in the World

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Some believe that the era of the greatest archaeological discoveries is over. Many tombs have been excavated and ancient architectural complexes have been discovered. In our time of digital technologies, many mysteries of ancient civilizations have been unraveled. But modern technologies also help us to open new pages in the book that historical science has put on the shelf to gather dust. New research methods allow us to have a different look at civilizations of the ancient world.

In 2012, my attention was attracted by a group of mounds of unusual shape and with an interesting location. They are located on a plateau called Bezvodovka near the town of Ichnia, Chernigiv region, Ukraine. The barrows, instead of the usual conical shape, are cup-shaped and arranged in a circle with a diameter of up to two hundred meters. Dark spots can be seen on the aerial photographs, possibly more of the site destroyed by time and plow mounds. An 1861 topographic map of Schubert's confirms the existence of other mounds in this complex.

Schubert’s 1861 topographic map, which shows more mounds than what can be seen today.

Schubert’s 1861 topographic map, which shows more mounds than what can be seen today.

The questions arise: are these barrows burial mounds? If so, why don’t they look like other graves in the region? And why are they surrounded by earthen walls? Are they defenses? If so, why are they scattered over a large area, which does not conform with the rules of warfare?

If you stand in the center of the circle and measure the azimuth of each mound (the direction of a celestial object from the observer, expressed as an angular distance), you find that they coincide with azimuths of sunrise and sunset during the summer and winter solstices. It also coincides with the azimuths of the spring and autumn equinox. On Schubert’s map, many other embankments can be identified within a radius of several kilometers from the group of mounds. These repeat the azimuths of the mounds of the center circle. The conclusion is unequivocal - an ancient solar observatory, the system near and distant targets for astronomical research.

Sunset at Bezvodovka on the Summer solstice, June 22. Credit: Oleksandr Klykavka

Sunset at Bezvodovka on the Summer solstice, June 22. Credit: Oleksandr Klykavka

The principle of the work is as follows. At the center of a mound circle is an observer that marks the points of sunrise and sunset, the moonrise and the moonset and other celestial bodies on the horizon. At the time of sunrise and sunset on the days of the astronomically significant events of the solstices and equinoxes, a distant landmark, a near reference point and the observer's eye align in one line. The same working principle is the basis of alignments at Stonehenge and other ancient observatories, of which there are many in Europe. But the horizon observatory of Bezvodovka is different by its scale.

More than thirty man-made hills with different forms were located in an area of about twenty square kilometers. And the hills are not scattered randomly. They are organized by mathematical proportions and create the sacred geometry of Bezvodovka. The diameter of the central circle is 185 meters, equivalent to the ancient Greek measurement of the length of a stadium. The distance from the nearest western landmark to the furthest western landmark is 740 m, equivalent to 4 stadiums. The distance from the center to the north and south landmarks is 9 stadiums, or 1665 meters, and twice as long as the distance from the center to the furthest western landmark which is 832 meters. The distance from the center to the north-east and north-west and two southern distant landmarks is exactly 16 stadiums. The distance from the center to the south-east and south-west distant landmarks is 18 stadiums; this is twice as far as the distance between the center and the north landmark.

The mounds of Bezvodovka plateau, Ukraine. Credit: Oleksandr Klykavka.

The mounds of Bezvodovka plateau, Ukraine. Credit: Oleksandr Klykavka. Credit: Oleksandr Klykavka

On the days close to the equinox, the sun moves rapidly across the horizon, and marking this movement is fairly easy. But approaching the days of the solstices, each new day the sunrise goes with a deviation of only a few minutes of arc, and then completely stops for a few days before starting on its way across the horizon line in the opposite direction. This explains why the landmarks indicating the solstices are four times further than the landmarks of the equinox. A distance of more than three kilometers gives the required accuracy of a few minutes of arc.

Ancient astronomers could use the observatory, not only as a solar calendar and for holding associated religious rites, but also as a tool to calculate the lunar cycle known as the Meton cycle, as well as to study the motion of the planets and stars in the sky. Long-term observation of the motion of celestial bodies, and knowledge of the laws of celestial mechanics, allowed the determination of the date of the lunar and solar eclipses and even the displacement of the equinoxes on the horizon due to variations in the Earth's axis called precession.


It is another example of the ancient preoccupation with eclipses and equinoxes and solstices. also advanced knowledge of astronomy!

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