5,000-Year-Old Calendar Rock Found in Sicily Excites Archaeologists
A team of researchers exploring the southern coast of Sicily have found an intriguing prehistoric calendar rock. After conducting some empirical observations, they discovered the rising sun of the winter solstice aligns perfectly with a large hole in a rock formation on a hill near a prehistoric necropolis. They also discovered a fallen megalith would have stood directly in front of the hole. Stonehenge-like comparisons abound in the media.
Seeker reports that the team came upon the 3.2 ft. (.98 m) diameter hole in a rock formation while surveying the area around Gela for World War II-era bunkers. After noting the man-made appearance of the hole, they decided to look for its possible purpose – and a connection to the seasons made sense.
The summer and winter solstices were key points in time for many prehistoric peoples. The huge Stone Age megalithic monument in Ireland known as Newgrange, the Pictographs of Paint Rock, Texas, the fortress of Saqsayhuaman in Peru, and of course – the most famous of them all – Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England, are just some of the archaeological sites that have shown the interest ancient peoples had in the sun and the changing seasons.
Solstice sunrise light entering the Newgrange monument, a photo by Cyril Byrne of the Irish Times, as seen on NASA’s Astronomy Photo of the Day website.
However there are many sites that have been tentatively linked to the solstices these days, and ANSA says that Professor Alberto Scuderi, a known expert in archaeo-astronomy and regional director of Italian Archaeologist Groups (GAI), suggested the team needed a scientific confirmation to support their hypothesis.
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So, the team, consisting of archaeologists Giuseppe La Spina, Michele Curto, and Mario Bracciaventi, along with Vincenzo Madonia for technical support, used a compass, cameras, and a video camera-toting drone and waited for the sun to rise on the winter solstice. The results showed their effort was worth it.
As archaeologist Giuseppe La Spina told Seeker "At 7:32 am the sun shone brightly through the hole with an incredible precision. It was amazing."
But that’s not all they found at the site. Slightly to the east of the calendar rock, the team discovered a 16.4 ft. (5m) tall megalith which had apparently fallen over (the pit at the base suggests it once stood upright.) A comparison of the geological composition of the calendar rock to the megalith suggests that the standing stone was brought to the site from somewhere else. "This obviously reinforces the sacrality of the site," La Spina said.
- A thousand years ago, Native Americans aligned drawings with solstice sun
- Shab-e-Yalda - an ancient winter soltice celebration that commemorates the triumph of Mithra
This isn’t the first holed rock formation that has been linked to the solstices in Sicily. Scuderi told Seeker that two holed stones were found in the past near Palermo. Interestingly, Scuderi believes that the recently discovered hole was carved by the same people who made those holes.
The team of researchers by the newly discovered calendar rock in Sicily. (ANSA)
"One lined up with the rising sun at the winter solstice, the other produced the same effect with the rising sun at the summer solstice," Scuderi said. "For this reason, I believe that another holed calendar stone, marking the summer solstice, may be found near Gela."
Giulio Magli, professor of archaeo-astronomy at Milan's Polytechnic University told Seeker that the new find is interesting, but has called for more scientific measurements to be taken at the site. He said "We should not consider the holed stones as precise calendars or instruments to observe the sun's cycle, but rather monuments that provided information on the solstices for practical and agricultural purposes."
Top Image: The winter solstice sun shining through the 5,000-year-old calendar rock discovered near Gela in Sicily. Source: Giuseppe La Spina