Goseck Circle

Goseck Circle: The Oldest Known Solar Observatory

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In 1991, inspectors from the German government took aerial photographs of a small German town called Goseck and saw something strange.  On the ground, there appeared to be a giant circular ridge hidden beneath a field.  It would take archaeologists 12 years to realize that this ridge was the remains of an ancient solar observatory.  Archaeologists also found the remnants of ritual fires and human bones with cut marks on them indicating that the circle was not just for star gazing but also for human sacrifice.  Curiously, a 3,600 year old bronze disc was discovered just 25 kilometers away from the site and is considered to be the oldest concrete representation of the cosmos.  It shares a striking similarity with Goseck Circle.

Goseck Circle – A Neolithic henge

Goseck Circle or Goseck Henge, is an early Neolithic Henge structure with entrances orientated to the rising and setting solstices.  It was apparently created by Europe's first civilization, long before the cultures of Mesopotamia and the pyramids of Egypt.  Dubbed the German Stonehenge, the structure has been radiocarbon dated to 4900 BC.  Hundreds of similar wooden circular ridges just like it were built during a 200 year period around the same time.  It is one of the best studied of the more than 250 ring ditches identified by aerial surveys throughout Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Croatia.  Previously, archaeologists had thought that these henges might have simply been ancient fortifications.

Reconstruction of the wooden rings at Goseck

Reconstruction of the wooden rings at Goseck ( Wikimedia Commons )

Constructed by a mysterious culture

The people who built Goseck Circle are known only as the Stroke-Ornamented Ware Culture from the fragments of pottery they left behind.  Various pottery shards belonging to this culture were dug out from the site and date back to around 4700 B.C.  The discovery of the shards also suggests that the site was functional for a period of 200 years and then abandoned.  They represent a transition from Neolithic linear pottery to Stroke-Ornamented Ware Culture.  The jars and bowls had their decorations jabbed into the soft clay with a kind of fork to form zig-zag lines.  Archaeologists know nothing about the appearance or language of the people who built Goseck and can only surmise what their religious beliefs might have been.  Some claim the circle was a calendar that told ancient farmers in the area when it was time to begin counting the days until spring planting.  However, excavations of the 6,000 square-meter site have also found the remains of headless skeletons, human and animal bones, decapitated oxen and ritual fires all pointing towards burial rituals or human sacrifice.

Solar alignments

The original configuration and traces of Goseck Circle reveal that the structure once consisted of two wooden fences, one mound and four concentric circles.  The site was approximately 75 meters (246 feet) in diameter.  A narrow ditch enveloped the circular wooden wall and three gates – one facing north, one facing southwest and the last one facing southeast, were equally space out around the outer edge.  Standing at the center of the structure during the winter solstice, December 21, a person could see the sun rise from the southeast gate and set through the southwest gate.  It has been observed that the entrances get progressively smaller the closer to the center one gets, which would have concentrated the sun’s rays into a narrow path.  The third gate at the site remains something of a mystery and points north, but not quite. It may have nothing to do with astronomy, for the compound was more than just a solar station.

Site of the Goseck circle. The yellow lines represent the direction the Sun rises and sets at the winter solstice, while the vertical line shows the astronomical meridian

Site of the Goseck circle. The yellow lines represent the direction the Sun rises and sets at the winter solstice, while the vertical line shows the astronomical meridian ( Wikimedia Commons )

Oldest solar observatory

Goseck Henge is considered to be the oldest official solar observatory in the world.  It lies on the same latitude as Stonehenge, just over 1' minute (approx. 1000m) longitude further north.  Stonehenge and Goseck both lie on the exact latitude at which the midsummer sunrise and sunsets are at 90° of the moon’s northerly setting and southerly rising. This particular phenomena is only possible within a band of less than one degree of which Stonehenge and Goseck lies in the middle-third.  The site also sits on one of two unique latitudes in the world where the full moon passes directly overhead on its maximum zeniths.

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