Italian Archaeologists Find a Rare Solar Observatory Hewn Into Rock to Highlight the Winter Solstice
A group of friends surveying World War II bunkers in Sicily, Italy, uncovered something much older—a rock on a hill with a circular hole that was apparently carved into it through which the winter sun still shines the morning of the solstice. It is a sundial that has been dubbed the Stonehenge of Italy. Archaeologists who examined the holey stone say it dates as far back as 6,000 to 3,000 years.
Archaeoastronomy Professor Alberto Scuderi, a regional director with Italy’s Archaeologist Groups, studied the stone after amateur archaeologist Giuseppe La Spina and his friends discovered it on November 30, 2016.
Finally, on the winter solstice of December 21, experts determined that the stone was used to determine seasons and solstices. They used a compass, a GPS drone, cameras and video equipment to verify that the sundial worked.
"At 7:32 am the sun shone brightly through the hole with an incredible precision," Mr. La Spina told Live Science . "It was amazing."
Professor Scuderi completed his work on January 3 and was to present a report on the stone to the Gela Archaeological Museum.
The stone arrangement is near three prehistoric cemeteries—Grotticelle, Dessueri and Ponte Olivo. The closest town is Gela, on the southern Sicilian coast.
This rock-hewn tomb at Syracuse, reportedly that of Archimedes, is of a type found near the sundial in Gela, Sicily. ( Wikimedia Commons /Photo by Codas2)
“Making an archaeological discovery is in itself an important event, but to be part of one of the most sensational finds in recent years fills me with pride,” Mr. La Spina told the Local.
He added that this Bronze Age monument was special to him personally because he and his group found it near his hometown of Gela.
Mr. La Spina said the discovery of the sundial with its 3.2-foot (1-meter) diameter hole may mean even more archaeological treasures are there to be discovered. He hopes for new finds that will shed light on the distant past of his hometown.
The 7-meter-tall (23-foot tall) stone’s special ritual importance becomes even clearer in the context of the sacred ground upon which it was found. Around the end of the 3 rd millennium BC, there were burials nearby called grotticella tombs that were carved out of rock by people of the Castelluccio culture that held sway in Sicily.
La Spina and his associates also found a stone called a menhir at the eastern side of the sundial. They believe the stone was upright when it was taken there, but it fell at some point later. The menhir is 5 meters tall (16.4 feet) and in front of it is a pit.
The sundial stone and menhir have different geological compositions, which experts think indicate the menhir was imported to the site from elsewhere.
This is not the only stone with a man-made hole found so far on Sicily. Professor Scuderi said he found two others, near Palermo, that were made in prehistoric times.
"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 told Live Science . "For this reason, I believe that another holed calendar stone, marking the summer solstice, may be found near Gela."
Featured image: The morning sun shines through the stone with the hole, an event marking the beginning of winter on December 21. (Credit: Giuseppe La Spina)
By Mark Miller