Chapter II – Megaliths and Mounds
Megaliths are structures made of large stones by ancient cultures, without the use of any mortar or cement. As to not knowing what exactly their roles were, we can only surmise that they fulfilled both astronomical and religious functions, due to the astronomical significance of their alignments. In general, megaliths do not include structures built by developed and well expressed cultures like the Romans or Maya, and their pyramids, but rather the more ancient cultures.
Pyramids themselves were first used in ancient Mesopotamia as mud-brick structures known as ziggurats. Egypt would go on and build over 70 pyramids, with recent archaeological finds there and elsewhere, supporting the theory that most pyramid’s were centers of stargazing, worship, work, commerce, and social life rather than lone tombs erected on empty plains.
Pyramids continued to be used by the Greeks and Romans, and are found throughout the world, most notably in Central and South America, India and China.
Megaliths and mounds meanwhile are also found around the world. Especially in large areas of the Middle East, from the Turkish border, through Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Undoubtedly because of its large population at the time with agriculture blooming, the largest concentration of megaliths can be found in southern Syria and along the Jordan Rift Valley. Many of them are found to align with the summer solstice sunrise, and may have been used as a place to gaze at and track the stars, with their rock formations working like a kind of ancient calendar.
The oldest megalithic structure in the world, which we know of, is Adam’s Calendar, South Africa, (shown above) with some studies suggesting it could have been made around 75,000 years ago. It’s one of an estimated 100,000 such structures in the hills around Mpumalanga (Zulu name for “the place where the sun rises”) a province in eastern South Africa, bordering the nations of Swaziland and Mozambique.
But the majority of megaliths seem to have been erected during the Neolithic period, the final stage of cultural evolution and technological development among prehistoric humans, and the final division of the Stone Age. The Neolithic began about 12,000 years ago (10,000 BC) with the development of farming, and ended around 3000 BC. Overtaken then by the Bronze Age, which denoted the first period in which metal was used.
One of the oldest megalithic places of worship in the world, erected around 11,000 years ago, is Gobekli Tepe, in Turkey. Four stone circles have been excavated from an estimated 20, with some 3 meters high and up to 30 m across. The stones have a variety of carved reliefs and pictograms depicting boars, foxes, lions, birds, snakes and scorpions. Predating Stonehenge by 6,000 years, the people of the time hadn’t yet developed pottery or metal tools but managed to build this place with massive carved stones.
While at Nabta Playa, in Egypt, which will be discussed later on, stone circles, groups of megalithic structures, and alignments of upright stones, dating from about 4,500 BC, was a vast star chart.
Other notable Middle Eastern megaliths, include, Rujm-el-Hiri (3000 BC) at Quneitra in Syria, which is currently in the Israeli-occupied portion of the Golan Heights. An enormous megalithic monument consisting of several concentric stone rings made up of more than 42,000 basalt rocks, it resembles a giant target from above and boasts intricate stone arrangements within its circle. The stones range from 2.5 m in height to 4.5 m tall in the center.
The Trilithon of Baalbek, Lebanon, in the ruins of the former city of Heliopolis has some of the largest cut stones ever known to have been created by human civilization. At the base of the ruins of the Jupiter Baal temple are three stones, called the Trilithon, and each weighs more than seven hundred and fifty tons. Researchers remain divided as to who created these monsters.
Many European stone sentinels, megaliths and stone groupings, also conformed to celestial alignments, which required skilled observation, measurement, and prediction. In some locations, such as Stonehenge, on the Salisbury Plain, in Wiltshire England, the massive standing stones, around 4m high and 2m wide, and weighing around 25 tons, had some astronomical purpose, and of course, used for ceremonies and rituals. As in most all other cases, these observatories were employed to determine the seasons, an important factor in knowing when to plant crops, as well as in understanding the length of the year. Stonehenge was built around 3000 BC and constructed to calculate the moment of sunrise and moonrise, over an 18.6 year cycle. By standing at the centre of the circle, one can face either the sunrise or the moonrise, and foretell the season according to its position behind the “markers”.
In the English Midlands, limestone monuments called The Rollright Stones; date back to as early as 4000 BC. The Stones consist of three major formations, constructed at different times throughout the Neolithic and Bronze Age: the Whispering Nights dolmen, the King’s Men stone circle, and the King Stone.
The Standing Stones of Callanish on the isle of Lewis, in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, form a megalithic complex also based on astronomy. Built in about 3000 BC, lines can be identified to the moon, Sun, and stars, and seems to have been a huge lunar calendar.
Newgrange, in the County of Meath, Ireland, is a tomb hill, 76 m wide and 12 m high. It was built between 5500 and 3200 BC. Renowned due to its astronomic positioning: at the dawn of winter solstice day the Sun shines through its 18 m long main passage. Also in Ireland sits the Drombeg megaliths, formed into a circle that aligns with the sunset on the winter solstice. Human remains suggest the monument was used from as early as 1100 BC.
In Brittany, France, at Carnac, more than 3,000 stones have stood in careful rows since as early as 4500 BC. It is the largest collection of prehistoric hand cut stones in the world. Carnac’s megaliths cover the countryside, along with dolmens (tombs), burial mounds, and individual memorials. Some arrangements align with the stars, while local legend says the stones were once soldiers, frozen in place for all eternity. Other theories point to the sky. Also in France, The Grand Menhir of Locmariaquer, is one of the largest freestanding stones to have been erected anywhere in Europe and is a part of a wider site of significance in the area. It is estimated to have been erected over six thousand five hundred years ago. Though having fallen over perhaps a thousand years ago and now lying in four pieces, it is estimated to have weighed as much as three hundred and fifty tons and stood nearly twenty meters tall.
On the island of Menorca in the Mediterranean Sea, off of Spain, are the Talati de Dalt megalithic monuments, called taulas (Catalan for “tables”), and dated between 1000 and 3000 BC. They are visually very similar to Stonehenge, but are a mystery to what religious or astronomical significance they had. Another theory suggested they were centers of healing for the Talaiotic people who built them. Also in the Mediterranean, and submerged by around 7200 BC, a 12 m long monolith, probably weighing around 15,000 kg was found 40 m under water in the Strait of Sicily, south-west of Sicily, but whose function is unknown. Nearby, the megalithic structures on the nearby island of Malta are believed to be one the oldest in Europe, in particular the Skorba Temples, which were built around 4850 BC, while the Ggantija (giant), is a temple on the island of Gozo, a part of Malta, and dates back to 3600 BC. It is made up of huge limestone blocks with an innermost section, passageways, altars, carvings and libation holes.
Elsewhere, the eastern North American Native peoples, the Hopewell (200 BC-500 AD), and the Adena (1000 BC-200 BC), built huge earth mounds, many in the shape of an octagon as well as pyramid mounds which were square, rectangular and circular.
The pre-Columbian city Cahokia, beside the Mississippi river, near St. Louis, built earthen pyramids that still stand today. The largest one covers sixteen acres at its base and rises 30 metres, making it one of the biggest buildings of any period, and the largest in the United States before the 20th century. Many are burial tombs, though just as many are also thought to encode various sunrise and moon-rise patterns, including the winter and summer solstices, equinoxes, and minimum and maximum lunar risings and settings on the local horizon.
The “Big Horn Medicine Wheel” in Wyoming, USA, is a stone setting resembling an enormous spiked wheel. Historically on native Crow land, oral history from several indigenous nations sets the Big Horn Medicine Wheel as already existing before them, having been built by “people without iron”. It has been dated archaeologically to 3200 BC.
The Wheel is one of four or five astronomically complex wheels that are publicly known to exist in the Rocky Mountain region. It is of a type termed “Subgroup 6”, for its prominent central stone cairn surrounded by a stone ring, while two or more interior stone lines connect the stone ring to the cairn in the center. Smaller, less complex wheels may also have astronomical significance, such as solstice alignments and east-west orientations. The larger complex wheels are capable of tracking several different cosmic cycles, including the precession of the equinoxes, the Moon’s phases, lunar and solar eclipse cycles, and planets’ orbital cycles. These astronomical wheels mirror the north ecliptic polar region of the sky, and are useful as celestial grids to track changes over the millennia.
While in central and South America, megaliths run into the hundreds. The Calçoene megalithic observatory (the Amazon Stonehenge), erected sometime in the 1st to 10th centuries AD, in Amapá, Brazil, is a circle marked with 127 blocks of granite, and stones up to 3 m high. Other South American megaliths include The Chilla Pyramids, and the Banos Del Inca, in Ecuador, and the Huaca del Sol, in Peru.
While, 3,512 kilometers east off the coast of Chile lays the island of Rapa Nui, a remote volcanic island in Polynesia. The nearest inhabited land to it is Pitcairn Island, 2,075 km away. Rapa Nui has nearly 1,000 massive upright stone statues called moai. Created during the 13th and 16th centuries, the moai are carved human figures with oversize heads, often resting on massive stone pedestals called ahus. The largest standing moai was estimated to weigh at least 86 tons.
Other notable megaliths include Padang Hill in West Jawa, Indonesia. It is the largest concentration of megalithic stones in Southeast Asia, consisting of thousands of stone blocks. And the Diquis Spheres in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, a very unusual megalith in that it is made up of perfectly round stone spheres, some up to 16 tons in weight. While ancient, the exact timing of its building and culture, are unknown.
And finally Inuksuk Point, on Baffin Island, in Nunavut, Canada. Inuksuk Point is a group of over 100 vertical stone settings, which serve as navigation and reference points. The word inuksuk (also called inukshuk), could be translated as “somebody/something who acts on behalf of a human”. An Inuksuk in the shape of a person signifies safety, hope and friendship, which today has been transformed into a symbol of hope and friendship that transcends borders to reach people all over the world.