January 6, 2017

Team finds stone age ‘calendar rock’ in Sicily that predicts the beginning of winter

A Stonehenge-like rock formation recently discovered on the southern coast of Sicily by a team of Italian archaeologists contains a large hole they believed was used to mark the seasons, as the rising sun was found to be in perfect alignment with the hole during the winter solstice.

According to Archeology and LiveScience, archeologist Giuseppe La Spina and his colleagues discovered the approximately 5,000-year-old Neolithic rock on a hill near an ancient necropolis located roughly six miles from the city of Gela on the island’s southern coast. They discovered the structure while surveying some World War II-era bunkers in the area.

“It appeared clear to me that we were dealing with a deliberate, man-made hole,” La Spina told Seeker on Thursday. “However, we needed the necessary empirical evidence to prove the stone was used as a prehistoric calendar to measure the seasons.”

To gather that evidence, he and his fellow researchers used compasses, video cameras mounted on a GPS-equipped drone, and other equipment to test their theory on the solstice by examining if the rising sun would align with the 3.2-foot diameter hole. The experiment turned out to be a “total success,” the archaeologist said. “At 7:32am the sun shone brightly through the hole with an incredible precision. It was amazing.”

A companion summer solstice stone may be nearby, say experts

Based on their observations, the researchers believe that the 23-foot-tall stone was likely used to predict when the seasons and the weather would change, preparing the people who lived there for cold weather and precipitation. It also likely was used in rituals, as they later discovered that this site had been a sacred place in the late third millennium BC, LiveScience said.

In addition to the calendar rock, La Spina’s team also found a 16.4-foot-tall on the ground to the east, according to Archaeology. There was a pit dug at the base of the stone that suggests that the stone had once been placed upright in front of the holed stone. This rock, also called a menhir, is also different than the calendar rock in terms of composition, leading the researchers to believe it had been transported to the site from a different location.

The holed stone is at least the third to have been found in Silicy, and as Alberto Scuderi, regional director of Italian Archaeologist Groups, told Seeker, all three appear to have been crafted by the same people. One of the other stones, which Scuderi discovered near Palermo, “lined up with the rising sun at the winter solstice,” he said, while the other produced a similar affect with the rising sun during the summer solstice. For that reason, he told the website that he believes that a second holed stone – a summer solstice companion to the newfound one – should be near Gela.

However, Giulio Magli, professor of archaeo-astronomy at the Polytechnic University of Milan, told Seeker that while the discovery is interesting, the stones need to be studied further. He added that we “should not consider the holed stones as precise calendars or an instrument to observe the sun's cycle, but rather monuments that provided information on the solstices for practical and agricultural purposes.”


Image credit: Giuseppe La Spina