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13 November 2004
Megalithic sanctuary discovered in Russia

Russia now may have a Stonehenge of its own. Last summer, a 4,000-year-old megalithic structure was uncovered at a Spasskaya Luka site, in the central Russian region of Ryazan. This structure, which, archeologists believe, was built as a sanctuary, sits on a hill overlooking the confluence of the Oka and the Pron rivers.  
     "If we look at this archeological site as represented on a map, it will be a circle seven meters in diameter, marked with standing stons, half a meter thick and evenly spaced one from each other," says the expedition leader Ilya Akhmedov, who works in the Moscow Historical Museum's Archeological Monuments Department. "There was a large rectangular hole and a standing stone in the center of the circle. The wooden poles have not survived, of course, but the large holes from which they once stuck out can be seen pretty clearly.
     Along the edges of the site there are two more holes. Originally, there may have been four of them, but the bank over here is being destroyed by a ravine, so the temple has caved in partially." Another hole with a stone has been unearthed several meters east of the site. And there is also one to the south, which was discovered three years ago. "In all probability, there's a second row of standing stones surrounding the shrine, a dozen meters away," Mr. Akhmedov says.
     The two stone pairs form a gateway, which, if looked through from the center, will provide a spectacular sunset view in the summertime. Another stone, behind the circular fence, points to where the sun rises. The monument's structure has prompted scholars to advance a hypothesis about its astronomical purpose.
     The size of the holes varies from 44x46cm to 75x56cm. A small ceramic vessel has been found in the central hole. It is finely decorated with zigzags, resembling sunrays, and with curly lines, which may symbolize water. Archeologists have recognized the artifact as dating back to the Bronze Age. Fragments of long bones and teeth have been extracted from one of the holes outside the sanctuary. These could be the remains of a sacrifice. But the large holes could have been used for burial. A layer of organic decay has been discovered on the bottom of the central hole.
     Ancient sanctuaries are often located beside burial sites and there is more than one cemetery at the Spassakya Luka site. Finno-Ugric tribes arrived here at some point during the period known as the Great Resettlement. Interestingly enough, not a single one of their tombs encroached upon the ancient observatory, a fact suggesting that they must have known about the structure's sacral significance.
     The old Ryazan sanctuary is, indeed, a unique monument. Similar monuments have been found in southern Russian steppes and in the trans-Urals tundra, but these are not as representative and have few artifacts.

Source: Russian Information Agency Novosti (12 November 2004)

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