The art of astronomy may be a lot older than we thought! Thousands of years ago, the Sahara was a jungle, and a strange collection of stones were lined up by the people who lived there.
Was this a 7,000 year old Stonehenge? Scientists are debating it now!
Earliest Astronomical Monuments
by Gary Shultz
DALLAS (SMU) — Scientists from Southern Methodist University and the University of Colorado have found stone monuments in the Sahara Desert that may represent the earliest known efforts to mark astronomical events.
An alignment of stones, an ancient “calendar” and tombs for cattle constructed by nomadic herdsmen more than 6,400 years ago have been discovered at the Nabta Playa in southern Egypt by Fred Wendorf, Henderson Morrison Professor of Anthropology at SMU, and J. McKim Malville, professor of astrophysical and planetary sciences at University of Colorado. Their findings are being published in today’s edition of the scientific journal Nature.
The research that led to this discovery was conducted by the Combined Prehistoric Expedition, which is jointly sponsored by SMU, the Geological Survey of Egypt and the Polish Academy of Sciences.
The scientists’ discoveries point to a complex society with a hierarchy of leadership that possibly — though it has not been proven — had an understanding of astronomical phenomena.
“They sacrificed young cows and buried them in clay-lined and roofed chambers covered by rough stone tumuli; they erected alignments of large, unshaped stones; they constructed more than 30 complex structures having both surface and subterranean features; and they built what may be Egypt’s earliest astronomical measuring device, a “calendar circle,” which appears to have been used to mark the summer solstice. A shaped stone from one of these complexes may be the oldest known sculpture in Egypt,” Wendorf said.
The scientists found a north-south alignment of nine large quartzitic sandstone slabs set upright about 100 yards apart. About 325 yards north of the alignment, they found a
“calendar circle” consisting of a series of small sandstone slabs arranged in a circle about 12 feet in diameter. The circle include four pairs of larger stones, each pair separated by a narrow gap. Two pairs were aligned north-south and the other two pair were aligned with sunrise on the summer solstice in mid-June, when the monsoon rains started.
Another 325 yards north of the “calendar circle,” they found the remains of a complete
articulated young adult cow buried in a chamber. The chamber had been covered with broken rocks forming a mound about 25 feet in diameter and three feet high. Seven other similarly buried cows were found in the same area.
The Nabta Playa is an ancient lake bed located near the Tropic of Cancer about 600 miles south of Cairo. The region was extremely arid until about 11,000 years ago, when summer monsoons from Central Africa moved northward and temporary lakes such as Nabta were formed annually in geological depressions. The monsoons shifted southward again about 4,800 years ago, again leaving the area with virtually no rainfall annually.
During the time the region was relatively moist, receiving 4 to 8 inches of rainfall annually, Nabta is thought to have been a regional ceremonial center where widely separated groups gathered periodically to conduct ceremonies and to reaffirm their social and political solidarity, Wendorf said. Such activities probably began about 8,100 to 7,600 years ago. This would have been before the rise of Egypt’s ancient dynasties.
Wendorf and others began exploring the site in 1974 but did not begin field work on the large stone structures until 1992 with support of grants from the National Science Foundation and private donors. Nabta is a kidney-shaped depression roughly 1.8 miles by about three-quarters of a mile.
Working with Wendorf and Malville were Ali A. Mazar of the Egyptian Geological Survey in Cairo and Romauld Schild of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw.