|12 December 2003
Additional details on Goseck circle
In august 2003 we already covered the news about a German site that could be an ancient astronomical observatory. More details about this site are now emerging.
A vast, shadowy circle sits in a flat wheat field near Goseck, Germany; first spotted by airplane, the circle is 75 meters wide. Originally, it consisted of four concentric circles - a mound, a ditch and two wooden palisades about the height of a person - in which stood three sets of gates facing southeast, southwest and north, respectively. On the winter solstice, someone at the center of the circles would see the sun rise and set through the southern gates.
The Goseck structure is the oldest and one of the best preserved circles whose function is evident. Perhaps the observatory's most curious aspect is that the roughly 100-degree span between the solstice gates corresponds with an angle on a 3,600-year-old bronze disk unearthed on a hilltop 25 kilometers away, near the town of Nebra.
Two opposing arcs, which run along the rim of the ancient broze disk, are 82.5 degrees long and mark the sun's positions at sunrise and sunset. The lowest points of the two arcs are 97.5 degrees apart, signifying sunrise and sunset on the winter solstice in central Germany at the time. Likewise, the uppermost points mark sunrise and sunset on the summer solstice. The sun's position at solstice has shifted slightly over the past millennia, notes Wolfhard Schlosser of the Ruhr University in Bochum, so that the angle between sunrise and sunset is now slightly farther apart than when the Nebra disk and the Goseck circle were made (by 1.6 and 2.8 degrees, respectively).
Nearby excavations of wood-and-clay houses have turned up a variety of grains and evidence of domesticated goats, sheep, pigs and cows. Farmers reached this part of the world some 500 years before they built the solar observatory. The Nebra disk may have been a ritual object or, more likely, a calculational tool used with observations at Goseck or a similar site to determine planting and harvest times.
The third arc on the disk, believes Francois Bertemes of the University of Halle-Wittenberg, is the stuff of legend. The ancients did not understand how the sun could set in the west and end up in the east the next morning. Representations of a disk in a ship, from Bronze Age Egypt and Scandinavia, reveal an ancient belief that a ship carried the sun across the night sky. The Nebra disk is the first evidence of such a faith in central Europe.
The third gate at Goseck remains mysterious, however: it points north, but not quite, so it may have nothing to do with astronomy. In addition to pottery shards and arrowheads within, excavators found the decapitated skulls of oxen, apparently displayed on poles, and parts of two human skeletons. The human bones were cleaned of flesh before being buried. Such ceremonies anoint the site as a temple, Bertemes notes, and show that science was inextricably entangled with superstition since Neolithic times.
Source: Scientific American (11 December 2003)
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