A 4,000-year-old solar calendar sanctuary has been unearthed by archaeologists in the Netherlands who have described it as the first of its kind. The size of four football pitches, this vast religious site appears to have been constructed so the sun shines straight through certain passages on the main burial mounds on the winter and summer solstice.
The site is located near the town of Tiel at the construction site of an industrial park. Archaeologists have been working here since 2016 in a series of digs, but this colossal open-air sanctuary was only recently found in an excavation this year.
It consists of three mounds in which people were buried, lined with large wooden poles. It’s estimated that at least 60 people were buried in the burial mounds over a period of 800 years, while a further 20 people were in outside burial mounds in another cemetery. The largest hill has a diameter of 20 meters (65 feet) and seems to have served as a kind of solar calendar.
For centuries, people would gather at this sacred site on the solstices and watch as the Sun perfectly aligned with the mounds, bestowing the Sun's rays on a collection of the remains of their ancestors, sacrifices, valuables, and other offerings.
“Around the largest mound was a shallow ditch with several passages. On certain days the Sun shone straight through those passages on the hill. The most important days were June 21, the summer solstice (longest day), and December 21, the winter solstice (shortest day),” the Municipality of Tiel said in a statement about the discovery.
“Archaeologists also found offerings in places where the Sun shone straight through the openings. Animal skeletons, but also human skulls and valuables such as a bronze spearhead,” it continued.
While similar structures have been found elsewhere in Europe, this is the first time such a discovery has been made in the Netherlands.
Among the site, archaeologists have yielded over 1 million objects dating from the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman Age, and Middle Ages. The parts of the site dating to the early Bronze Age include around 25,000 bone remains, 32,000 bone shards, 170,000 clay fragments, 58,000 natural stones, and 10,000 flints.
One particularly interesting discovery at the site is a green glass bead found among one of the central graves. Remarkably, analysis has shown that it originated in Mesopotamia – present-day Iraq – some 4,000 kilometers (2,485 miles) away, as the crow flies. This indicates that these two vastly different cultures, separated by thousands of miles of land, were somehow in contact with one another up to 4,000 years ago.