Armenia's Stonehenge: Just How Old Is It?
Rick Ney continues the fantastic history of Ancient Armenia's "Stonehenge", possibly the world's first astronomical observatory.
Now Herouni steps into the fray, armed with calculations and methodology borrowed directly from Parsamian's study at Metsamor.
As Herouni and his team catalogued the stones, they found one that was different from the rest. Herouni believes it is the key stone Parsamian was looking for. "All the stones with apertures point to the horizon or lunar positions in the night sky", he says. "All, that is, but one".
"While other sight-holes pointed to the horizon, this one had an aperture that bent in the center and pointed directly up. You couldn't see anything looking through that aperture, but if you put something shiny at the bend, something like a polished metal or obsidian, you could look through the hole to a zenith point straight above you. It was a periscope."
Herouni excitedly began to make calculations from this unique stone. Figuring the ancients looked at specific star or constellation through the periscope, he knew he had the key Parsamian was looking for to be able to date the site.
"The chances of something like that occurring are very small," Herouni said. "Mathematically I was certain it would lead to one star or group of stars in the sky, and then we would have our date."
Herouni was able to discount the sun or moon, since they do not cross the zenith point above the stone at that latitude. At the same time, because of the tilting axis of the earth as it rotates around the sun, the stars change their apparent position in the night sky, something Herouni calls a "delivered rotation to the elliptical plane by 23 degrees, with a conical precision of 26,000 years," he knew that what appeared at the zenith could only be a star or stars. Figuring that even with a polished object as a reflective mirror, the ancients would not have been able to observe any distant stars, Herouni chose to study the brightest stars in the North sky for his calculations.
Using the same method Parsamian had published in her study on Metsamor, Herouni took the latitude of the site, five of the brightest stars in the North sky, and compared them with a stellar calendar showing the stars ascendant in Sissian region during different epochs of time.
"The probability of one of these stars crossing the zenith at that point was very low. I expected to find at most one star, or one group of stars."
What shocked Herouni when he completed his calculations was that he found not one star at the zenith above the stone, he found two. "The star calendar showed there was a 100% probability of the stone pointing to two stars," Herouni said, "each at different times. The chances of it actually pointing to two stars is infinitesimal."
The two stars are Arktur and Capella.
"The interesting thing is that Arktur was ascendant at the time the old or "main" style Armenian calendar began (2492 BCE). Now this would make the site a few hundred years younger than that at Metsamor, but I believed it had to be older, for several reasons, not the least of which is that by the time of Metsamor, the astronomers were already drawing star positions and geometric figures on stone. It looks like they were mapping the night sky on their observatory site. But we have found no inscriptions at the Sissian site. There had to be advancements in the culture to reach Metsamor's sophisticated level."
Haik and the Stones at Sissian
Another reason is that Herouni made a further calculation: The calendar Herouni refers to is not a first calendar, it is a calendar change.
"I refer to King Haik, who many think was a legend. By my studies, and through archeological finds, his name appears in historical chronicles of that time, looking very much to me like he was an actual person."
Haik is connected to the Babylonian King Nemruth (Nemrod), who is connected in the bible with the tower of Babel. Armenian legend calls Nemruth "Bel", but retains the story of Babel. In that legend, Haik is supposed to have participated in the construction of the tower, but when it fell he left Babylon, taking his people to the North. Herouni points to a Babylonian clay tablet where Nemruth wrote to Haik, asking him to return.
In the legend Haik refuses, and Nemruth sent an army to punish him. Haik's army, skilled archers, are said to have slain the army, Haik's arrow piercing Nemruth's armour. Haik took Nemruth's body to his capital near Lake Van, where he hung him from his tower, a warning to anyone who doubted his own strength.
Nemruth's death is mentioned on actual Babylonian border stones at the site where the battle is said to have taken place. Those stones and the clay tablet letter to Haik convinces Herouni that the legendary Haik was in fact an historical person.
"And this part is not legend. Haik changed the old Armenian calendar to celebrate his victory, by changing the names of the months to the names of his sons and daughters. He had ten children, so two of the months kept their original names."
Unlike other calendars, the Armenian calendar is a solar calendar. While the Egyptian calendar is also based on 12 months and 30 days, the Armenian calendar includes 7 days in a week, and each day of the month has its name.
"Egypt and Babylon used a moon calendar first," Herouni says, referring to studies on historical calendars by Benik Toumanian and Haik Badalian. "Or some combination. The Jewish calendar is a combination of sun and moon calendar, it is very complicated. Armenia never had a moon calendar, they knew about solar positions, eclipses. They came up with a 365 day calendar, that had to be corrected every four years."
And so to Herouni, the changing of the old to the "main style" calendar, which occurred in 2492 BC, is a second key to the dating of the site at Sissian. "They had a calendar already, because Haik changed it. And he changed it at the time Arktur was ascendant above Armenia."
How Long Does It Take?
"And so I asked myself, 'how long does it take to create a calendar? How long does it take to understand the concept of time, to divide it into units? And then how long does it take to go further, to understand latitude and longitude, to develop navigation?' The entire ancient world was navigating by the time Arktur was ascendant—they already had calendars, they understood longitude and latitude."
Herouni calculates it would have taken many years—perhaps thousands—to create the system necessary to begin a calendar and develop the kind of astronomy the people at Sissian used to build the telescopes. "And so, I chose the earlier star, Capella, which was ascendant around 4200 BCE."
If true, it indeed shatters most histories on the beginning of astronomy. It also coincides with the earliest zodiac designs in Armenia, which appeared at the beginning of the 4th millennium BC.
[Part 6, the final part of Rick Ney's valuable article on Karahundj, Armenia's Stonehenge, examines the evidence for its antiquity and original purpose, according to leading scholars Parsamian and Herouni.]
Read part 6 of Armenia's Stonehenge