A view inside the reconstructed wooden palisade of the circle
Location in Germany
|Founded||ca. 4900 B.C.|
Its construction is dated to approximately the 49th century B.C., and it seems to have remained in use until about the 47th century B.C. It may thus be the oldest and best known of the circular enclosures associated with the Central European Neolithic. Currently, the site is presented officially by the state archaeologists and the local association that looks after it as a ritual or cult structure.
The circle consists of a concentric ditch 75 metres (246 feet) across and two palisade rings containing entrances in places aligned with sunrise and sunset on the winter solstice days and smaller entrances aligned with the summer solstice. Marketing materials have described it as one of the oldest "Solar observatories" in the world, but sunrise and sunset during winter and summer solstices are the only evident astronomical alignments emphasized in the remains of the structure.
The existence of the site was made public in August 2003, and it was opened for visitors in December 2005.
The site is located on farmland near Goseck, in the Burgenlandkreis of Saxony-Anhalt, between Naumburg and Weißenfels. The circle sits on a piece of land that gradually rises toward the south, not far from where the Unstrut flows into the Saale, at the border of the region known as Leipzig Bay.
Discovery and excavation
The circle was discovered in 1991 by Otto Braasch on an aerial survey photograph that showed circular ridges under a wheat field. The cropmarks were easy to see in a season of drought. The structure's visibility also indicated an advanced state of erosion.
To preserve the endangered remains, the Landesamt für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt decided to conduct an excavation. It cooperated with the Institute for Prehistoric Archaeology of the University of Halle-Wittenberg.
François Bertemes and Peter Biehl began a major excavation of the site in 2002. When archaeologists combined the evidence with GPS observations, they noticed that the two southern openings marked the sunrise and sunset of the winter and summer solstices.
Radiocarbon dating places the construction of the site close to 4900 B.C., while the style of the pottery shards associate it with the stroke-ornamented ware culture of ca. 4700 B.C., suggesting that the site remained in use throughout two or three centuries.
Excavators also found the remains of what may have been ritual fires, animal and human bones, and a headless skeleton near the southeastern gate, that could be interpreted as evidence of human sacrifice or specific burial ritual.
Bertemes and Biehl have continued the excavation for a few weeks each year. In 2004, a group from the University of California, Berkeley joined the ongoing dig.
Since the end of the excavation, the site has been reconstructed. Archaeologists and state officials have rebuilt the wooden palisade of the circle using 1,675 oak poles with a height of 2.5 m. Woodworkers worked with hand tools so that the wooden posts would look authentic. The site was opened to the public on 21 December 2005, the day of the winter solstice.
The site is surrounded by a circular v-shaped moat of up to 1.8 m depth. The soil was used to create a rampart on the outside. The diameter of the moat is 75 m, measured from its external border. A double wooden palisade stood inside the moat. No traces of internal buildings were found. Entry to the site was via three symmetrical main entrances to the north, southwest, and southeast. In addition there were small gaps in the palisades allowing access. The moat followed the three main entries outward (see diagram). The entrances in the inner palisade were narrower than those in the outer, which in turn, were narrower than the gap in the moat.
The southwestern and southeastern entrances face the direction of sunset and sunrise around the date of the winter solstice. Two of the smaller breaks in the wall face toward the equivalent direction on the summer solstice.
There is no sign of fire or of other destruction. Why the site was abandoned is unknown. Later villagers built a defensive moat following the ditches of the old enclosure.
Astronomical alignment and interpretation
The Goseck ring is one of the best preserved and extensively investigated of the many similar structures built at around the same time. Approximately 140 of these structures, known as circular enclosures, have been found. Although they all have unique features, they follow a basic architectural principle. Few of them have been excavated.
In the first opening of this site, state archaeologist Harald Meller called it "a milestone in archaeological research".
Its construction is dated to approximately the 49th century B.C., and it seems to have remained in use until about the 47th century B.C. This corresponds to the transitional phase between the Neolithic Linear Pottery and Stroke-ornamented ware cultures. It is one of a larger group of circular enclosures in the Elbe and Danube region, most of which show similar solstice alignments.
There has been some debate about whether the site was used to monitor the sun throughout the year or only on specific notable days, and thus about whether calling the site a "solar observatory" is appropriate. Some have suggested the name was adopted primarily for marketing purposes. Archaeologist Ralf Schwarz suggests the structures at the site allowed coordinating an easily judged lunar calendar with the more demanding measurements of a solar calendar through calendar calculations.
The reconstructed site is open to the public. An information point has been opened at nearby Schloss Goseck, featuring an exhibit and information on the excavations. The site is maintained by the Verein Gosecker Sonnenobservatorium e.V..
Goseck is a stop on the tourist route, Himmelswege, linking archaeological sites in Saxony-Anhalt.
- Literski-Henkel, Norma (February 2017). "Das "Sonnenobservatorium" von Goseck" [The "solar observatory" of Goseck]. Archäologie in Deutschland (in German). Stuttgart, Germany: Konrad Theiss (Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft). pp. 70–71. ISSN 0176-8522.
- Bertemes, François; Northe, Andreas (2007). "Der Kreisgraben von Goseck: ein Beitrag zum Verständnis früher monumentaler Kultbauten Mitteleuropas" [The circular ditch of Goseck: A contribution to the understanding of early monumental cult buildings of Central Europe]. In Schmotz, Karl (ed.). Vorträge des 25. Niederbayerischen Archäologentages [Lectures of the 25th Lower Bavarian Archaeological Day] (in German). Rahden/Westf: Leidorf. p. 137-168 (at 150). ISBN 978-3-89646-236-7.
- "Menschenopfer in Europas ältestem Sonnenobservatorium". Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. 8 August 2003.
- Ralf Schwarz, Kreisgrabenanlagen der Stichbandkeramikkultur in Sachsen-Anhalt, Neolithic Circular Enclosures in Europe, International Workshop in Goseck (Saxony-Anhalt, Germany) 7-9 May 2004 (abstract)
- François Bertemes, Peter F. Biehl, Andreas Northe, Olaf Schröder: Die neolithische Kreisgrabenanlage von Goseck, Ldkr. Weißenfels. In: Archäologie in Sachsen-Anhalt. NF Bd. 2, 2004, p. 137–145.
- Boser, Ulrich (July 2006). "Solar Circle". Archaeology. Vol. 59 no. 4. Retrieved 14 March 2018.
- Mukerjee, Madhusree (8 December 2003). "Circles for Space: Scientific American". Scientific American. Archived from the original on 15 October 2010.
- F. Bertemes, P. Biehl, A. Nothe, O. Schröder, Die neolithische Kreisgrabenanlage von Goseck, Ldkr. Weißenfels. Arch. Sachsen Anhalt 2, 2004, p. 137-145.
- "Archaeologists Unearth German Stonehenge". Deutsche Welle. 8 August 2003.
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