An ancient, enigmatic monument, referred to as the “Wheel of Giants” by archeologists, lies in the Israeli-occupied portion of the Golan Heights. It was thought to date back to around 3000 BCE, and archeologists have now reconfirmed this, meaning that this mysterious Neolithic megastructure is at least as old as Stonehenge, as reported by Reuters.
Discovered shortly after the lightning 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and a number of Arabic states, the megalithic monument of Gilgal Refaim is composed of around 42,000 volcanic rocks, arranged in five concentric circles, some complete, some incomplete. This ancient structure is large enough that it can only be seen in its entirety from the air, and is similar in appearance to dozens of other “Big Circles” discovered across Jordan and Syria.
This structure, whose Arabic name Rujm el-Hiri means “stone heap of the wild cat,” has been described as the Stonehenge of the Levant. Similar to Stonehenge, the theories behind its purpose range wildly, with some thinking that it served as an astronomical calendar, whereas others believe it to have been a social gathering site or a place of worship – or perhaps all three.
Image credit: Rujm el-Hiri – the stone heap of the wild cat. Michael Homan/Flickr; CC BY 2.0
Also like Stonehenge, Rujm el-Hiri is possibly thought to be an example of an ancient burial site, with the deceased encased in stony tombs called dolmens. The monument also contains a possible burial chamber, a complex tomb at the center of the 159-meter-long (520-foot-long) structure.
Somewhat disturbingly, archeologists have also suggested that the site represents an earlier version of a “Tower of Silence” or dokhma, a raised, circular structure used by Zoroastrians – a religious group of Persians emerging first in the mid-6th century BCE – to expose their dead to the sky, allowing scavenging birds to consume them.
After the flesh and organs were removed – in a process known as excarnation – the bones were then buried in an ossuary, a chest or well designed to be a final resting place. Some archaeologists believe that the ossuaries, which appeared similar to grain storage silos, represented a pathway to resurrection.
Stonehenge, perhaps the best-known prehistoric monument in Europe, was built around 4,500 years ago, and this Wheel of Giants in the Middle East seems to be similarly ancient. Regardless of age, this Israeli-Syrian site remains thoroughly mysterious: Who built it, and why they built it, still remains as tantalizingly uncertain as ever.