Stone Circles: A Worldwide Phenomenon
Stone circles conjure up a lost world of mysterious ceremonies, druid astronomers, pagan dances and inquisitive antiquarians. The most famous is Stonehenge in Wiltshire, UK, but it is also the most unusual in that it has lintels and trilithons in its design.
Most stone circles are not so glamorous, but given that over one thousand of them dated to between 3500 BC and 1500 BC have been found in the British Isles alone, their construction was evidently an important part of our ancient culture.
Stonehenge is also known for its summer solstice sunrise, and research over the last 60 years has shown that many other circles not only use sky and landscape alignments to mark astronomical events, but also share geometrical forms and measurement systems.
Whoever made these magnificent structures had a deep understanding of engineering, surveying, geometry, metrology, acoustics and astronomy. And they were not an isolated group of builders — as we will see, stone circle building was once a global endeavour.
Gobekli Tepe: Stone Circle Genesis
6,500 years before Stonehenge was constructed, a vast megalithic complex was flourishing near present day Şanliurfa, southeast Turkey. Göbekli Tepe is at least 12,000 years old and its preserved stone circles are the oldest in the world. The ones so far uncovered exhibit impressive degrees of technical and artistic skill.
Like Stonehenge, the monoliths were erected in circular arrangements, and oriented to particular areas of the sky. The world’s first stone circle complex is rewriting history books.
Göbekli Tepe consists of T-shaped pillars up to 20 ft. tall, many decorated with animal reliefs (scorpions, boars, lions, etc) and abstract human forms wearing belts inscribed with enigmatic ‘H’ and ‘U’ shapes.
The taller stones rest in shallow nests on bedrock with small supportive dry-stone walls built in between them. In some enclosures, two central pillars orient towards a holed stone, the largest and oldest of which is 65 ft wide.
An enormous 24 ft.-long limestone pillar still sits in the nearby quarry. Over some 3,000 years the circles were filled in with rubble to create mounds, and other circular and oval enclosures built on top. Then, at around 8000 BC, the entire complex was carefully reconstructed and covered up. Interestingly, the oldest rings are not only the largest, but also the most sophisticated.
Like later sites around the world, astronomical alignments are evident. Figures depicted on the Vulture Stone may be the earliest representations of zodiacal and other constellations (including Cygnus). Our earliest surviving buildings therefore seem to be an early observatory built to track precession, the 25,800-year cycle of the pole stars.