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31 January 2011
The enigmatic Mzora stone ring in Morocco

In Morocco, not far from the Atlantic coast and away from major tourist attractions, lies a remarkable and enigmatic megalithic site. The Mzora stone ring (also spelled variously as Msoura/Mezorah) is situated roughly 11km from the nearest town of Asilah and about 27km from the ruins of ancient Lixus. It is not easy to reach and a small display in the archaeological museum at Tetouan is the most the majority of visitors see or hear of this very interesting site.
     Plutarch, in the first century CE, may have referred to Mzora in his Life of Sertorius. He describes the Roman General Quintus Sertorius being told by local inhabitants about a site they knew as the tomb of the giant Antaeus who had been killed by Hercules. There are many other ancient accounts that place the tomb of Antaeus in close proximity to both Lixus and Tangier and it is quite plausible that Mzora is the inspiration behind these stories.
     The site itself is a Neolithic ellipse of 168 surviving stones of the 175 originally believed to have existed. The tallest of these stones is over 5m in height. The ellipse has a major axis of 59.29 metres and a minor axis of 56.18 metres. At the centre of the ring, and quite probably a much later addition, is a large tumulus, today almost disappeared. The bulk of the damage to it seems to have been done by excavations undertaken in 1935-6 by César Luis de Montalban. The only professional survey of the site was conducted in the 1970s by James Watt Mavor, Junior of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts, USA. It is this survey that revealed Mzora to be not only remarkable in its own right but to have implications for the history of megalithic sites in Britain.
     Mzora, incredibly, appears to have been constructed either by the same culture that erected the megalithic sites in France, Britain and Ireland or by one that was intimately connected with them. The ellipse is constructed using a Pythagorean right angled triangle of the ratio 12, 35, 37. This same technique was used in the construction of British stone ellipses of which 30 good examples survive including the Sands of Forvie and Daviot rings.
     Furthermore it appears that the same unit of measure, the megalithic yard (or something remarkably close) used in the construction of the British sites surveyed by Professor Alexander Thom, was also used in the construction of Mzora. "If a 'megalithic yard' of 0.836 metres ... [is used] ... then the major axis and the perimeter of the ring take on values nearly integral," Robert Temple - visiting Professor of the History and Philosophy of Science at Tsinghua University in Beijing - wrote in his 'Egyptian Dawn' book.
     Thom proposed that achieving a circumference measured in whole numbers was of paramount importance to the builders of megalithic rings. But there is more: according to studies by James Watt Mavor, at least seven stones of the Mzora circle mark different astronomical phenomena: winter and sumer solstice sunrises/sunsets, equinoctial sunrises and sunsets.
     Mzora isn't the only stone circle in Africa to share its construction methodology with British sites. The Nabta Playa stone ring in Southern Egypt conforms to Alexander Thom's 'Type I egg' geometry. But at present Mzora is unmanaged, exposed and vulnerable, so this monument surely deserves better protection and further study.

Edited from Lost Cities & Remote Places (13 January 2011), The Heritage Journal (27 January 2011)

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