The Goseck Henge in Germany

Goseck

The Goseck Henge in Germany is an early Neolithic Henge-structure with entrances orientated to the rising and setting winter solstice sun. Dating back from 5,000 BC, the Goseck ‘Henge’ is considered the earliest solar observatory in the world.

It lies on the same latitude as Stonehenge, at just over 1′ minute of longitude further north which is approx 1000 meters.

Combining Global Positioning System data with archaeological evidence from the site, archaeologists realised that the two southern gates of the Henge marked the start of the summer and winter solstice, making the enclosure possibly the world’s oldest solar observatory. The farmers of Neolithic Central Europe, who most scholars believed were a generally unsophisticated group who tilled the land with basic wooden tools, were actually measuring the heavens far earlier than we think.

The Goseck enclosure and hundreds of similar wooden circular Henges were built throughout Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic during a 200-year period around 4,600 BC. While the sites vary in size,they all have the same features. A narrow ditch surrounds a circular wooden wall, with a few large gates equally spaced around the outer edge. While scholars have known about the enclosures for nearly a century, they were stumped as to their exact function within the Stroke-Ornamented Pottery culture (known by its German acronym, STK) that dominated Central Europe at the time.

The yellow lines represent the direction the Sun rises and sets at the winter solstice, while the vertical line shows the astronomical meridian. Wikimedia Commons
The yellow lines represent the direction the Sun rises and sets at the winter solstice, while the vertical line shows the astronomical meridian. Wikimedia Commons

The circle at Goseck is one of more than 250 ring-ditches in Germany, Austria and Croatia identified by aerial surveys, though archaeologists have investigated barely 10% of them. Goloring near Koblenz in western Germany is a similar, if later, example. Previously archaeologists thought that the enclosures might have been fortifications and were puzzled by the fact that there was no sign of buildings inside the circles.

Archaeologists know nothing of the appearance or language of the people and can only surmise about their religious beliefs. The culture is known only as that of stroke-ornamented ceramic ware, from fragments of pottery it left. The jars and bowls had their decoration jabbed into the soft clay with a kind of fork to form zig-zag lines. The whole period of stroke-ornamented pottery is limited to 4,900 to 4,650 BC.

The Goseck Henge is currently the oldest official ‘Solar observatory’ in the world. On the winter solstice, the sun could be seen to rise and set through the Southern gates from the centre. It has been observed that the entrances get progressively smaller the closer to the centre one gets, which would have concentrated the sun’s rays into a narrow path.

Being on the same latitude as Stonehenge means that ‘astronomers’ would have also benefitted from viewed the extremes of the sun and moon at right angles to each other. It is also sitting on one of two unique latitudes in the world at which the full moon passes directly overhead on its maximum Zeniths.

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