Armenia is full of archaeological surprises. It is a country where mysterious stories appear at every corner and most of them still wait to be solved. However, one of the greatest stories of prehistoric Armenia relates to the Army Stones, a riddle hidden between a marvelous construction of megaliths.
Zorats Karer is also known as Carahunge, Karahunj, Qarahunj. It is located in an area of around 7 hectares and covers the site near the Dar river canyon close to the city of Sisan. The ancient site is often called the ”Armenian Stonehenge”, but the truth of what it is may be even more fascinating. According to several researchers, Zorats Karer could be among the world’s oldest astronomical observatories , and is at least 3,500 years older than British Stonehenge. But not everyone agrees with that interpretation.
The Controversy Surrounding the Site
There are two main groups researching the Zorats Karer site – Bnorran Historic-Cultural NGO and the Armenian Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography – and they have very different views on the purpose of the site. As Bnorran board member Arevik Sargsyan told Armenpress:
“We think Carahunge, where more than 200 stones are located, with 80 having holes in them, is an ancient astronomical observatory, which was studied by Paris Herouni, with other experts having made similar opinions before that. According to another opinion, Carahunge isn’t an astronomical observatory. It is simply an ancient site, a settlement, which has a status of a mausoleum.”
Although they differ on their views, the two groups are reported to have co-signed an agreement to work together to solve the enigmatic site’s mysteries. They’ve agreed to suspend their individual work until after a joint research plan has been decided upon by a team of astronomers, archaeoastronomers, archaeologists, ethnographers, naturalists, and other experts.
Suggestions of Prehistoric Astronomy at Zorats Karer
The site was rediscovered in 1984 by a team led by researcher Onik Khnkikyan. After a few months of work, Khnkikyan concluded that the site of Zorats Karer must have been an observatory. Moreover, with time, Armenian archaeologists, astronomers, and astrophysicists found that there were at least two other ancient sites that were important for prehistoric astronomy in the vicinity: Angeghakot and Metzamor.
In 1994, Zorats Karer was extensively analyzed by Professor Paris Herouni, a member of the Armenian National Academy of Science and President of the Radio Physics Research Institute in Yerevan. His expeditions revealed a great deal of fascinating information about the site.
First of all, his team counted 223 stones, of which 84 were found to have holes. They measured the longitude, latitude, and the magnetic deviation of the site. The researchers also created a topographical map of the monumental megalithic construction , which became the basis of further work.
Finally, the main treasure of the site was unearthed – a collection of what many researchers believe are impressive and unique astronomical objects. The researchers decided that several stones were used to make observations of the sun, moon, and stars. They were located according to knowledge about the rising, culmination moments, and setting of the sun, moon, and specific stars.
The stones are basalt, somewhat protected by moss but smoothed by the rain and wind and full of holes and erosion. Many of the stones were damaged over time.
In ancient times, the stones were shaped and arranged in what are known as the north and south arms, the central circle, the north-eastern alley, the separate standing system of circles, and the chord. The stones are between 0.5 and 3 meters (1.64 – 9.84 ft.) tall and weigh up to 10 tons. Some of them are related to burial cists .
The researchers are almost sure that the site had at least two meanings – ritual and scientific. According to the Armenian tradition, the name of the site comes from two words car (stone) and henge (sound).
The Speaking Stones of Armenia
Between the years 1994 and 2001, Zorats Karer was examined on several occasions by radio physicists. Even the famous archaeo-astronomer Gerald Hawkings arrived to see the fascinating site. A team of German archaeologists suggested that it is an impressive Middle Bronze Age necropolis or the remains of a Hellenistic city wall. These claims did not convince all the researchers.
Finally, a number of researchers concluded that the monument is at least 7,500-years-old, but possibly much more. It is believed to have been created for ritual reasons and the need to understand the movements of the sun, moon, and stars. The people who created connected their beliefs with the early science of astronomy.
Zorats Karer Today
Artifacts discovered on the site of Zorats Karer are now held in a small, local museum. Among them are stones with petroglyphs and grave goods from Bronze Age cist burials. The researchers believe that the site still contains many secrets. However, due to a lack of funds, excavation work cannot be continued as intensively as the archaeologists would like.
Many people continue to visit the site searching for answers related to astronomy. They bring telescopes and choose the dates which are the best to observe planets, the moon, and certain stars. It seems that the site of the Zorats Karer remains to this day a perfect place to observe the sky.
Top Image: Zorats Karer (Carahunge) – Prehistoric Megalithic site in Armenia . Source: VitalyTitov /Adobe Stock