The Mzora Stone Circle: A Megalithic Mystery in Morocco
When people think of megalithic structures, there is a clear behemoth which undeniably dominates the history books – Stonehenge. The iconic stone circle has fascinated historians, archaeologists, and the general public alike for hundreds of years and speculation as to its original intended use is rife – new theories emerge on a regular basis and as archaeological techniques advance the site is constantly reassessed.
But the building of stone circles like this is far from an isolated event. There are plenty of examples, from Avesbury Stone Circle which is not too far away from Stonehenge in the UK, to Stoplesteinan in Norway, and a number of stone circles at the site of Carnac in France.
Outer circle of the Mzora Stone Circle. (El mundo con ella / YouTube)
No matter what they were used for or who they were built by these stone circles all have one thing in common – they are a distinctly European phenomenon. It may therefore be surprising to learn that there is a megalithic stone circle in what is today northern Morocco. And it is just as mysterious and impressive as its European counterparts.
The Mzora Stone Circle
The site of the Mzora stone circle is 11 kilometers (7 miles) from the nearest town of Asilah and 27 kilometers (16.8 miles) from the overgrown ruins of the ancient Canaanite city Lixus. It is a difficult trek to reach the site and many people rely on the assistance of local guides to be able to find it at all. It is a hidden gem which has been largely overlooked by the historical record and most people only learn of its existence by chance when visiting the archaeological museum at Tetouan. It first became known in the west in 1830 AD, thousands of years after it was constructed.
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Sketch of Mzora Stone Circle, 1830 The Mysterious Moroccan Megalithic Menhirs of Mzora. (Public Domain)
But far from being an underwhelming set of rocks, Mzora stone circle consists of 168 remaining stones, with an estimated 175 making up the original structure. Many of the stones are huge and the tallest, which is known locally as El Uted (The Pointer), reaches more than 5 meters (16.4 feet) in height. It is spread across a 55 meter (180.45 ft.) diameter and at its center there is a large barrow.
Is the Tomb of Antaeus at the Center of the Mzora Stone Circle?
While Mzora has been rediscovered in Africa within the past 200 years, it was first described by the Roman general Quintus Sertorius in the 1st Century AD as he was told it was the tomb of Antaeus – a legendary giant who was slayed by the heroic demi-god Hercules as one of his labors. The size of the barrow in the center of the circle is probably at the heart of this rumor, which astounded Sertorius so much he conducted one of the first recorded archaeological excavations at the site. He wrote that the body of a man 26 meters (85 feet) long was found and he was so struck with horror that he immediately covered it again.
It is perhaps this account that attracted César Luis de Montalban to the site in the 1930s, where he unfortunately performed a very crude excavation which largely destroyed the barrow (without even uncovering the remains of a legendary giant).
Who Built Mzora Stone Circle?
The only professional surveyance of the site was in the 1970s, and while it didn’t uncover any giant bones either, it did show that the site was not only extraordinary in itself, but also remarkable for the fact it changes the history of megalithic structures in Europe.
The appraisal revealed that the structure was not built independently of the European megaliths, but remarkably that it was either built by the same culture or is evidence of significant interaction between the two regions. This may seem obvious, but it is truly incredible when you consider the way of life of the people who were building these monuments.
Unlike tools and other technologies which could be taught and traded over long distances, the complex techniques needed to move such huge stones in this way would not have been easy to transmit and it is not a feat that would have been undertaken for no reason; so there must have been strong cultural links or a very important practical reason for constructing the circles.
The Mzora Stone Circle in Africa. (Christophe Chenevier / CC BY-SA 2.0)
The circle is constructed using a Pythagorean right angled triangle with the ratios 12, 35, 37 and this is the same method used by 30 megalithic stone circles in Britain alone. Other similarities in construction and proportions exist such as the use of the so called ‘megalithic yard’ - a unit of measurement which seems to have been universally employed across Europe – and evidently even further afield.
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What was the Purpose of the Mzora Stone Circle?
The purpose of stone circles is a debate which has been raging for hundreds of years, and it seems unlikely people will ever fully agree. From centers of druidic worship to burial sites for significant chieftains or ancient alien landing pads there is a theory for everyone. However, one of the most popular and pragmatic is that the stone circles were used as a sort of calendar.
Megalithic stone circles were constructed during the Neolithic period, when the adoption of agricultural practices made the monitoring of seasons crucial so that crops could be planted at the right time and the timing for storage and harvest could be predicted with a degree of accuracy. Just as Stonehenge is famously attuned to the summer solstice, a number of the stones in the Mzora stone circle align with significant astronomical phenomena such as the summer and winter solstices and equinoctial sunrise and sunsets.
Mzora megalith, known as the Mzora Stone Circle. (Anual / CC BY-SA 3.0)
The Mzora stone circle is remarkable because it is distinctly unremarkable next to the hundreds of remaining stone circles in Europe. It is a testament to the wide reaching networks our ancestors managed to achieve and the fact that no matter what they were for, stone circles were a crucial part of life and culture in the Neolithic.
Top image: The Mzora Stone Circle in Northern Morocco. Source: El mundo con ella / YouTube
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