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The Planet Earth:
Ancient Astronomy: Is Sahara 'Stonehenge' the Oldest?
Some ancient Stonehenge-style stones found in Egypt's Sahara Desert in 1998 may be the oldest astronomical alignment of megaliths anywhere in the world and probably served as both calendar and temple.
Click to enlarge megalith
The big stones at Nabta are from 6,000 to 6,500 years old. That's 1,000 years older than the famous Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England. The vertical sighting stones in the Nabta circle correspond to the Sun's zenith during summer solstice. The layout symbolizes a relationship between Sun, death and water.
Nabta is on the shore of a lake that began filling with water 11,000 years ago. The area was home to nomads until 4,800 years ago when annual monsoon rains moved in and the area began to dry up. Along with a circle of stones, the Nabta site has flat tomb-like stone structures and five lines of standing and toppled megaliths. Archeologists who dug up remains of cattle at the site say one of the Nabta rocks looks like a cow. They wonder if the Stone Age herders at the site used cattle in their rituals just as the African Masai do now. Archeologists also have uncovered carved ostrich eggs and other artifacts.
Researchers suggest that 6,000 years ago local herders created a stone circle and other structures on the shoreline of a lake that has long since dried up, then dragged ten-foot-tall stone slabs almost a mile to complete the site.
Not all of the giant stones are in aligned astronomically. Some standing alone may have been ritual markers of rainy seasons, partially submerged in a lake during summer and fall.
The Nabta site was found by a team of anthropologists led by Southern Methodist University's Fred Wendorf. University of Colorado Boulder astronomer J. McKim Malville and Wendorf did a satellite survey of the site last year. Malville and Wendorf are credited for the photo above. They wonder if the culture that built the stones may have laid the groundwork for later civilization in Egypt.
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