Unraveling the Secrets of Arkaim: The Russian Stonehenge
In 1987, a captivating discovery was made by the University of Chelyabinsk's archaeological expedition: an ancient fortified settlement belonging to the Sintashta culture , nestled in Russia's Southern Urals , dating back to 2,000 – 3,000 BC. This enigmatic fortress, known as Arkaim, has been dubbed the Russian Stonehenge, with experts believing it to be even older than its famous British counterpart.
Arkaim: An Engineering Marvel
Arkaim boasted two concentric circular walls, fortified by an outer defensive wall and a two-meter-wide moat. Rectangular dwellings fill the space between the walls, with the entire structure spanning an impressive 160 meters in diameter. Featuring four gates aligned with cardinal points, the settlement displays advanced engineering with its water distribution system and tunnels for excess water removal. Approximately 35 houses adjoin the outer wall, their exits facing the main street, demonstrating the town's well-planned design.
The discovery of a water and sewage system, mines, metallic objects, pottery, ritualistic remains, utensils, and furnaces further attests to the complexity of Arkaim. Ground tombs near the fortress add to the intrigue of the site. The settlement's intricate layout and design set it apart from other Bronze Age settlements, highlighting its distinctiveness and the remarkable foresight of its builders.
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Aerial view of the main citadel at Arkaim, Russia ( Rafikova / CC by SA 4.0 )
Academics have drawn parallels between the layout of Arkaim and the cosmic model of cities described in ancient Indo-Aryan/Iranian spiritual texts, such as the Vedas and the Avesta. The unique design features three concentric rings of walls and three radial streets, which some believe echoes the city of King Yima referenced in the Rigveda. Interestingly, the foundation walls and dwellings of the second ring exhibit 'swastika-like patterns,' according to certain researchers. This symbolic design can also be found on numerous artifacts unearthed from the site, further emphasizing the potential spiritual and cultural significance of Arkaim's architecture.
Over twenty structures exhibiting similar designs have been discovered across a vast area extending from the Southern Urals to Northern Kazakhstan, creating what is now referred to as the "Land of Towns."
Reconstructed example of one of the ancient settlements in the “Land of Towns”. ( Ilin / Adobe Stock)
It looks as though Arkaim served simultaneously as a fortress, dwelling, temple and social center. The site was occupied for about 200 years and then was suddenly deserted. But who were its inhabitants? Arkaim's construction is credited to the early Proto-Indo-Iranian speakers of the Sintashta culture. Some researchers propose that this culture represents the proto-Indo-Iranians prior to their division into various groups and subsequent migration to Central Asia, and eventually to Persia, India, and other regions of Eurasia.
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Arkaim's discovery reignited discussions surrounding the original homeland of the Indo-Europeans, seemingly substantiating its location in Siberia. Since then, Arkaim and the Land of Towns have been perceived by some as the " land of the Aryans ," the core of a monarchical state, and ultimately a model for a new spiritual civilization in harmony with the universe. However, agencies affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church have expressed criticism regarding Arkaim's archaeological interpretations.
The unearthing of Arkaim and the Land of Towns has contributed to the development of various ideologies among Russian Rodnovers, Roerichians, Assianists, Zoroastrians, Hindus, and others. These groups view the archaeological site as the second homeland of the Indo-Europeans, who initially inhabited Arctic regions before migrating southward due to glacial conditions and eventually spreading westward, giving rise to other civilizations. According to this perspective, all Vedic knowledge originated in the Southern Urals. Some even identify Arkaim as the Asgard of Odin mentioned in Germanic mythology, while the Russian Zoroastrian movement considers it Zoroaster's birthplace. As a result, Arkaim has been designated a "national and spiritual shrine" of Russia and serves as a sacred site for Rodnover, Zoroastrian, and other religious movements.
Arkaim site excavation and partial building reconstruction. ( Rafikova / CC by SA 4.0 )
Arkaim Archaeological Site
Today, Arkaim is a significant archaeological site and a cultural and historical reserve. It has become a popular destination for both tourists and pilgrims seeking to connect with the ancient history and spiritual significance of the site.
Arkaim is also an active research site, with ongoing excavations and investigations aimed at uncovering more information about the ancient civilization that once inhabited the region. The findings contribute to our understanding of the history, culture, and technological advancements of the Sintashta people and their relationship to the broader Indo-European family.
Top image: Reconstruction of Arkaim, Russia. Source: Ilin / Adobe Stock
By John Black
Archaeology Magazine: Exploring Arkaim. Available at: https://archive.archaeology.org/0503/abstracts/sintashta.html
Atlas Obscura: Arkaim. Available at: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/arkaim
Russia Beyond: Arkaim, Russia's Stonehenge. Available at: https://www.rbth.com/travel/2015/07/10/arkaim_russias_stonehenge_and_its_mysterious_ancient_past_47865.html