Sahara 'Stonehenge' oldest yet, scientists sayApril 2, 1998
Web posted at: 11:38 a.m. EST (1638 GMT)
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Ancient Stonehenge-style stones spotted in Egypt's Sahara Desert are the oldest megaliths yet discovered and probably served as both calendar and temple, researchers said on Wednesday.
The site, known as Nabta, is between 6,000 and 6,500 years old, they reported in the science journal Nature. This would make it 1,000 years older than Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England and similar sites.
"This is the oldest documented astronomical alignment of megaliths in the world," University of Colorado at Boulder astronomy professor J. McKim Malville said in a statement.
"A lot of effort went into the construction of a purely symbolic and ceremonial site."
The stone slabs, some of which are 9 feet high, were dragged to the site from a mile or more away. Several are lined up in an east-west direction.
"These vertical sighting stones in the circle correspond to the zenith sun during the summer solstice," said Malville, who specializes in ancient astronomy.
"For many cultures in the tropics, the zenith sun has been a major event for millennia."
There are also giant stones standing alone. During summer and fall, they would have been partially submerged in the lake and may have been ritual markers for the onset of the rainy season.
"The organization of these objects suggest a symbolic geometry that integrated death, water and the sun," Malville said.
The groundwork for Egypt's great civilization
The Nabta site includes a stone circle, several flat, tomb-like stone structures and five lines of standing and toppled megaliths. One of the rocks looks like a cow, and archeologists have dug up remains of cattle at the site.
The Stone Age herders who visited the site used cattle in their rituals just as the African Masai do now. Archeologists have also found other artifacts such as carved ostrich eggs.
The Nabta site was found several years ago by a team led by Southern Methodist University anthropology professor Fred Wendorf. Wendorf, Malville and colleagues did a satellite survey of the site last year.
It sits on the shoreline of a lake that probably began filling with water about 11,000 years ago. The area was used by nomads until about 4,800 years ago, when annual monsoon rains moved southwest and the area again became too dry to live in.
Malville said perhaps the culture that built the stones laid the groundwork for Egypt's great civilization.
"The Nabta culture may have been a trigger for the development of social complexity in Egypt that later led to the Pharaonic dynasty," he said.
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