dedicated to Marina Tantooshian
Seen from above and tracing an imaginary line, the shape of a flying bird appears with wings outspread and a central oviform body. Karahundj or Zorats Kar is a pre-historic site extending for 7 hectares at 1770 metres above sea level and located 3 km north of the city of Sisian, in the Siunik region, the southernmost province of Armenia.
Here, 204 stones have been found, each one weighing at least 10 tons with a height of 50 cm to 3 m and a base of 1.50 m or more. 76 of them have smooth holes in the upper part.
These stones, now mostly covered by moss and lichens, come from a quarry situated 4 km towards the south and are distributed along two imaginary lines, each from 2 to 10 metres wide.
The line of stones facing north, a total of 71 of which 43 have holes, extends for 172 m. bending towards the west for a further 40 m.
The line facing south, a total of 69 stones of which 27 bear holes, stretches for 160 m. bending towards the west for a further 40 m.
The line from east to west is 20 metres long with an additional three stones.
The oviform figure shown at the intersection of the lines consists of 39 stones, distributed over 37 m. from north to south and 43 m. from east to west.
Within this form is the outline of an elliptic arched figure made up of 20 stones facing towards the west, in which some graves were found.
The archaeologists do not think that they are from the same period of the megaliths.
But what does ‘Karahundj’ or ‘Zorats Kar’ mean or represent?
In Armenian ‘kar’ means ‘stone’, and ‘hundj’ could come from ‘pundj’, that means cluster, which is similar to ‘henge’.
The scholar Gerald Hawkins says that, in fact, “henge” does not actually exist in English, but that it could mean ‘hung’, suspended, or ‘hang’, leaned on.
Perhaps another Armenian word is relevant: ‘hunchuin’ which means ‘voice’ and it might refer to the concept of singing stones. One thinks of the 21st of March and the Springtime equinox, celebrated at Stonehenge in Great Britain, where it is traditional to meet and look at the sunrise, listening to the sound of the wind through the megaliths.
Going back to Armenia, about 30 km in a direct line from the site is a small village still bearing the name Karahundj.
Perhaps, in ancient times, the whole area went by this name.
Or else we have the common root of the word ‘kar’, stone, and ‘zork’, group or army.
So the meaning could be ‘hang stones’, ‘singing stones’, or, even better, army of stones.
Professor Elma Parsamian, an astrophysicist at Byurakan Observatory, internationally renowned for her studies in astronomy, is author of the extraordinary discovery in 1966 of the archaeological site of Metzamor, near Yerevan, the Armenian capital city, one of the oldest astronomical observatories in the world.
Her research dated this site between 2800 and 2600 B.C., although other discoveries seem to indicate that Metzamor was already inhabited in 3000 B.C.
Professor Parsamian became convinced that the Armenians, a people of land and sea travellers and traders, would need to know astronomy to be able to orient themselves by the stars.
Supporting this view was the discovery of three platforms used to observe the celestial bodies, and in particular a trapezoid one, on the surface of which 4 stars are represented.
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Having made the necessary calculations, checked by international colleagues, Prof. Parsamian succeeded in finding Sirius, the brightest star in our galaxy, which, at that time, during the summer solstice, appeared in the sky at sunrise and remained visible throughout the morning.
The summer solstice coincided with the beginning of the calendar year for the ancient inhabitants of Armenia, as did the calendar of the Egyptians, who divided the year into 365 days. After 4 years, the rising of Sirius moved forward from the first to the second day of the month and, after another four years, from the second to the third, and so on.
To make things balance they added a day in leap years. The four stars identified in the tablet have been interpreted as the four representations of Sirius in a cycle of four years.
This insight was the key that opened the secrets of the sky to the ancient scholars in antiquity.
Starting from the rising of Sirius, they came to measure time, to define the signs of the zodiac and to trace longitude and latitude. Metzamor is, still today, an open book of the astronomy and sacred geometry of the past, with cosmic and mystical powers.
In the light of this knowledge, Elma Parsamian continued her studies, from 1980 to 1983, moving to the archaeological site of Karahundj, where she came to the conclusion that this too could be seen as an astronomical centre.
In fact she noted the basalt stones placed along the imaginary lines of the site were all lined up facing west, and, observing the holes, found they were perfectly smooth and ranged in size from 7 to 10 cm externally on both sides, but were only 5 cm inside.
Every hole was facing a different point on the horizon and in the sky, corresponding in particular to the phases of the moon and to the rising and setting of the sun during the equinoxes and solstices, in specific periods of the year, like reliable telescopes.
The sun and the moon, which are not involved in the rotation of the earth, unlike other celestial bodies, continue to cross the azimuth, i.e. the angle between the vertical plane passing through the star, and the meridian plane of the observation spot, maintaining the same point in the sky at night.
According to her calculations and the position of the stars, Parsamian dated the existence of Karahundj back to a period between 3000 and 2500 B.C.. Unfortunately, due to lack of funds, she could not confirm this date with the evidence of carbon-14, and was forced to suspend her research on the site.
This research was resumed, between 1994 and 1996, by another scientist and a colleague of Elma Parsamian, Paris Herouni, the director of the Institute of Measurement of Radio Physics and inventor of the first optical radio telescope in the world.
He organized four expeditions to the site, in coincidence with the equinoxes and solstices, this time equipped with specific computational and astronomical instruments, accompanied by cartographers, photographers, and also by a helicopter to take measurements and to mark and catalogue the stones.
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Supported by the results obtained by prof. Parsamian, prof. Herouni went further arguing that as early as 10.000 B.C. the ancestors of the Armenians, who lived on the plateau, had reached, for that period in time, an advanced level of civilization, considering that during the same period Egypt and China were still backward. In the surrounding mountains, called ‘of the Camel‘, is ‘Kareri Tzor‘, literally ‘sea of stone‘, an expanse of rocks and boulders, the surface of which is covered still today by petroglyphs representing human figures, animals, scenes of daily life and symbolic signs, such as a circle with four perpendicular lines placed in coincidence with the cardinal points.
Paris Herouni dated the first settlements in Karahundj back to 5.500 B.C., having discovered in the central part of the complex a ‘Temple of the Sun‘, dedicated to the god Ar, which probably functioned as an observatory and university.
He was convinced, moreover, that this site of pagan worship suffered invasions by enemy armies and was damaged by the early Christians.
In this regard, we note that in 301 A.D., with the conversion of its king, Tiridates, by Gregory the Illuminator, Armenia was the first nation in the world to adopt Christianity as the state religion.
Furthering his studies Paris Herouni noted that one stone was different from the others and that its hole, instead of pointing to the horizon, had an opening which converged towards the centre and aimed at the sky. Looking through the hole he didn’t see anything, but by placing the smooth part of a reflective object (such as an obsidian, found in the area), where the hole bends at 90°, he realized that it fit the zenith just above the observer. This is called periscope.
Bearing in mind the position of the stars at that time, given the angle of the earth, and after complex calculations Herouni became convinced that the scientific discovery of the existence of two stars, corresponding to Arcturus, in the constellation of Boötes or the Herdsman, and Capella, in the constellation Auriga, was the confirmation of the dates given by Elma Parsamian.
Was Karahundj the first astronomical observatory in the world, preceding the ziggurats of Babylon and Stonehenge? This is the challenge that Armenian archaeo-astronomers have launched. It is up to their colleagues to provide the answer.
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by Etta Lisa Basaldella Photoreporter