Ancient Observatory of Carahunge

“The people who divided the heavens at the constellations, probably lived in the Euphrates valley, as well as in the are of Mount Ararat” – William Olcott

Carahunge Ancient Observatory is located 200 km south of Yerevan, in the territory of the former Tsghuk province of Syunik, three kilometers north of the city of Sisian, at an absolute altitude of 1730-1770m above sea level, occupying an area of about 70-90 hectares with its adjacent structures. It should be noted that the area of the site was larger, but because of the agricultural work of the Soviet years, the eastern part of the site was completely destroyed.

Geographical-geological description of the archaeological site 

About two and a half million years ago, as a result of powerful volcanic eruptions, the Tsghuk and Ishkhanasar massifs formed, which was followed by the formation of the Sisian depression, which served as the basis for the formation of the great lake basin of Syunik. The lake stretched from Gorayk village to Shamb reservoir dam (about 43 km) and from Arevis village to Tsghuk slopes (28 km). In the area of Ishkhanasar village it was about 500 meters deep.

The level of the lake was about 2200 m (300 meters higher than Sevan). This great lake basin of Syunik probably survived from the Lower Quaternary period (about one and a half to one million years ago) to the Upper Quaternary period (about 100,000 years ago), producing flat level of diatomite and andesite-basaltic lavas at the bottom of the lake, which provided excellent seismological conditions for the construction of architectural structures in the future and, first of all, for the stability of stones – astronomical instruments of the Carahunge Observatory.(Azizbekyan H., and others, Search for geothermal anomalies in Sisian, Goris and Yeghegnadzor regions of the Republic of Armenia, Yerevan 1994, pp. 33-35, State Department of Subsoil funds).

About 100 000-80 000 years ago, the main remnants of the Syunik lake basin disappeared, after which, most of the lake formations were covered with lavas of the Upper Pleistocene (100 thousand – 20 thousand years) period. On the plateau of those basaltic lavas, three kilometers north of the city of Sisian, the monument was built.  

About 100 000-80 000 years ago, the main remnants of the Syunik lake basin disappeared, after which, most of the lake formations were covered with lavas of the Upper Pleistocene (100 thousand – 20 thousand years) period. On the plateau of those basaltic lavas, three kilometers north of the city of Sisian, the monument was built.  

The name of the Carahunge archaeological site

Among the inhabitants of the district, the names Tsits Karer and Dik-Dik Karer (standing and vertical stones), Zorats Karer (stones of Power or Stone Army) are common, which is a linguistic metaphor for the visual appearance of a monument as a group of standing people or a group of soldiers. After the expulsion of the Armenians from these places by Shah Abbas, the Caucasian Tatars who moved here, translated the name of the place as Ghoshun Dash, which means the Stone Army or the Stone Wars.

The name Carahunge was suggested in the 1990s by radiophysicist and radio astronomer, academician Paris Heruni, who was studying the monument. Heruni mentions that the historian of XIII century Stepanos Orbelian in his book “History of Syunic” mentioned village called Carunge near town Sisian. There are villages called Carahunge also in Goris (30 km away from Carahunge), 2 villages in Artsakh (60 and 90 km from Carahunge), one of which has holes in the rocks, in Vedi, Lori (Karinj) and Western Armenia.

The name Carahunge is interpreted by Paris Heruni with the words kar (Armenian: քար), meaning stone + and hunge or hunch (Armenian: հունչ), meaning sound,voice,echo, thus the name Carahunge means “speaking stones”. Heruni compares the names Carahunge and Stonehenge and finds similarities in semantic components: Stone means “car” (քար) in Armenian, and the word “Henge” does not exist.

It turns out that Stonehenge is the same “speaking stones”. There are many other similar structures with similar sound in different countries: Calenish (Cal (r) – in Armenian means “stone” +Nish – “sign” in Armenian) in Scotland, Carnac ((in Breton Carnich) – and in Armenian Car means “stone” + Nac (Nich) – in Armenian “Sign” (Stone, mark)) in French Brittany, another Carnac in Egypt, New Grange (henge / hunch) in Ireland, etc. Scientists associate the luminary function with most of them. (Paris Herouni, “Armenians and Old Armenia”, Yerevan-2006, p. 9)

According to the decision № 1095 of the Government of the Republic of Armenia of July 29, 2004, the ancient monument near the city of Sisian, with an area of ​​about 10 hectares, was named “Carahunge” Observatory. Taking into account the unique role and significance of the Carahunge ancient monument in the study of the culture of the ancient period of Armenia, the RA Government established historical and cultural preservation “Zorats karer” settlement” (with an area of ​​50 hectares) according to the decree of June 26, 2009, according to decree, 2 December, 2010, the area was transferred to the category of specially protected territories and was given to “Service for the Protection of Historical Environment and Cultural Museum-Reservations” non –commercial state organization of the Ministry of Culture for unlimited use. “Carahunge Observatory” megalithic complex is a part of it.

Studies of Carahunge archaeological site

At the beginning of the 20th century, Camille Flammarion, an ancient French astronomer and founder of the American Association of Observatory of Variable Stars, a member of the Royal Astronomical Society, William Tyler Olcott, and British astronomer Edward Maunder came to the conclusion that first astronomical observations, as well as the division of the sky into constellations, were carried out by the natives of the Armenian Highlands.

This means that there should have been ancient observatories in the whole territory of Historical Armenia, where the observations served as a basis for the development and dissemination of astronomical knowledge. Carahunge, Portasar, the ancient scientific and cultural center of Metsamor, the astronomical centers of Selim and Sev Sar, the petroglyphs depicting stars and other celestial bodies, astronomical findings: belt calendars, bronze model of the solar system, candelabrums symbolizing the sun and the planets, as well as cuneiform tablets (MUL.APIN) and ancient medieval Armenian astronomical knowledge (Shirakatsi) that have come down to us confirm the truth of the words of the aforementioned scientists.   

One of the first researchers of the Carahunge archaeological site is Doctor of Historical Sciences Onik Khnkikyan (O. Khnkikyan, Zorakars of Sisian, “Armenia’s Nature Magazine” No. 4. 1984. pp. 33-34), who was the first to express the opinion that the archaeological site probably served as an Observatory. 

Based on O. Khnkikyan`s data, the astrophysicist Elma Parsamyan studied the territory of Carahunge astronomical observatory in 1985 -1987. The astrophysicist assumed that astronomical studies had been carried out here in the past, and that the sun had been observed through the holes of some stones in the days of the equinoxes and solstices. (“About the possible astrological role of megalithic rings in Angelakot”, 1985, p.101).

The most serious research of the monument belongs to academician Paris Heruni, who organized six expeditions (in 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2001) and conducted detailed research in Carahunge and in the adjacent area, as a result of which a topographic map of the monument was compiled (see Fig.3.1), its latitude and longitude, the angle of local magnetic deviation were measured, as well as measurements of the angular altitudes for the horizon for 360 ° azimuths were carried out.

The azimuths and the heights of the standing stone holes were measured in relation to the horizon and other important characteristics were obtained. A complete catalog of 223 stones was compiled with a description of their size and condition and all stones have been numbered.

Many observations of sky sources, photo and video films of the moments of Sun and Moon rising, setting and culmination were done. A comparative analysis of the observation’s results was carried out․ Many prehistoric Stone Astronomical Instruments were discovered and their accuracy was determined.

Thus, after several years of field research (1994-2001), the famous scientist Paris Heruni showed the world that one of the world’s oldest observatories operated at the site of Carahunge, next to which was the temple of AR (Sun in Armenian), -Main God of ancient Armenia.

Using the Earth axis precision and other astronomical laws, by four independent methods, the scientist proved that the observatory functioned at least 7500 years ago. Paris Heruni believed that the history of Armenian astronomy is more than 25 000 years old․ (Paris Heruni, “Armenians and Old Armenia”, Yerevan-2006, p.8).

American astronomer Gerald Stanley Hawkins wrote in his letter to Paris Heruni about the latest observations: “I am most impressed with the careful work you have done, and hope that the result will ultimately get recorded in literature.”  

Swiss scientist, Doctor of Science H.P. Kleiner explored the Carahunge area in 1995. He paid attention to the stone N 68 having a bowl with water, and noticed that at a certain time of the year, the reflected ray from the surface of which composes a definite angle with top of neighbouring stone N 69. Kleiner noted that the standing stone N 200 played the same role as the famous Heel stone of Stonehenge. He also discovered a number of instruments, most likely related to astronomy.

In 2001 Professor N.G. Bochkarev, President of Euro-Asian Astronomical Society, with his two students, discovered Periscope-Stone N 90a, which was lying between other lying stones near South Arm Stone N 90. “Carahunge is a very serious Observatory”-was the first main opinion of Professor Bochkarev. In 2003, using other new methods, he came to the same conclusion that the Carahunge Observatory is 9000 years old and agreed that Carahunge is the World Oldest Observatory. (A. Hayrapetyan, “Carahunge”, Moscow 2018).

At the invitation of independent researcher Vazgen Gorgyan, Graham Hancock, a British journalist and writer, an expert on ancient civilizations, whose more than a dozen books in this field have been translated into 27 languages and published in more than 7 million copies, has visited Armenia to study Carahunge. As a result, he came to the conclusion that Carahunge has a history of at least 12 000 years. Hancock dedicated a whole chapter of his next book to Armenia and Carahunge.

After the death of Paris Heruni, mathematician, biocybernetic, candidate of biological sciences Vachagan Vahradyan discovered that the line of megaliths of the Carahunge monument is reminiscent of the arrangement of the stars of the constellation Swan-Vulture(Cygnus).  In a joint article with Marina Vahradyan “Results of interdisciplinary scientific research on the “Carahunge” monument, the scientist conducted research on the names of the monument, its structural, functional and geographical features, and also showed the connection with other megalithic structures, such as Stonehenge and Portasar, other research was also carried out

Our compatriot from Kaliningrad, Gor Hovsepyan, on many megaliths with holes discovered specially turned places for elbows, knees, feet and even chin, made for the convenience of long-term and comfortable observation of the sky through holes in the stones. (  

Geologist Hovhannes Azizbekyan worked in Syunik for many years, dealing with other issues of the geological structure of the Carahunge archaeological site. In 2019, he presented the following:

  1. Due to the special geological structure of the place, the archaeological site has not been damaged by earthquakes for millennia.
  2. Carahunge Ancient Observatory had a certain influence on the existence of the toponyms of the surrounding area and other archaeological sites directly connected with it.
  3. The significance of various structures on the territory of the monument, the connection of menhirs with structures dug in the ground, a quarry from which stones were taken, the spring, the similarity of the menhirs’ location with the location of the stars of the constellation Vulture (Swan) are identified․ 
  4. On the Ishkhanasar massif, the ruins of a walled stone tower located at the same width as the Carahunge structure were found, which, while watching the spring equinox (March 21) from the Arev(Sun) Temple, marks the point of the dawn on the mountain. ‘

(H. Azizbekyan, “The dawn of Carahunge and The tower of Arev (Sun)”, 2019). (H. Azizbekyan, “The archaeological site of Carahunge- sacred temple, observatory-settlement”, 2020)​

In 2019-2020 the archaeologist, historian-orientalist Zohrab Mughdusyan in several articles criticized the destructive activity of archaeologist Ashot Piliposyan in Carahunge, and proposing the hypothesis of an unfounded grave field. In the article he also referred to the significance of the archaeological site`s structures dug in the ground.

Hayk Malkhasyan, a  Research Associate at the Byurakan Observatory’s Department of Archaeoastronomy and Historical and Cultural Astronomy, published an article on the astronomical significance of Carahunge in the “Communications of Byurakan Observatory” scientific journal, where by both astronomical and geometric methods and the use of the Stellarium 0.19.1 computer program proves that this ancient astronomical complex may have been built 32 300 years ago according to the arrangement of the stars of the constellation of Vulture (Cygnus). (“Communications”  of the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatoryscientific journal, 2020)

In July 2020,  Byurakan Observatory after V. Hambardzumyan and Yerevan State University of Architecture and Construction organized  one-week scientific expedition to study the astronomical significance of Carahunge. The expedition was led by Grigor Brutyan, an astronomer, Candidate of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Head of the Department of Historical and Cultural Astronomy of the Byurakan Observatory. The group of architects and geographers was headed by the Dean of the Faculty of Architecture, architect Garnik Stepanyan. As a result of the research, a complete collection of astronomically applicable digital data was obtained, complete architectural and topographic (geodetic) integral and complete measurements were made, as well as a spatial survey of the monument was performed. In total, 20 hectares were surveyed, about 100 previously unregistered megaliths were recorded on the territory, in respect of which the above mentioned measurements were also carried out. A data processing and analysis process is currently underway, after which they will be published.

There are also forces that, in addition to destroying the Carahunge archaeological site under the guise of excavations, try to prove the hypothesis that the Carahunge archaeological site is just an ancient grave field, and the menhirs’ holes were made to move the stones from the quarry with the help of animals(Ashot Piliposyan, Pavel Avetisyan, Grigor Areshyan, responsible officials of the Ministry of Culture and other departments).

However, the aforementioned academic scientists mostly speak orally, there are no scientifically substantiated articles, and a systematic demonstration of the excavation results is not organized. Archaeological excavations have been carried out in the territory of the reserve since 2013 under the leadership of archeologist Ashot Piliposyan. The latter considers Carahunge to be one of the unique archeological monuments, the only megalithic monument in the whole Caucasus, which which has survived with such a large territory. A. Piliposyan dates the monument to about 4000 years old. He also tries to deny the significance of the Carahunge Observatory, emphasizing only the idea of a grave field.

The description of the archaeological site

The archaeological site has a great historical value; it is the oldest cultural and scientific center of Armenia.

Several structures are well expressed in the archaeological site:

  1. The oldest megalithic observatory is a group of menhirs, the position of which on the ground corresponds to the location of the stars of the constellation Swan in the sky.
  2. In the center of the structure is the temple of the Sun God AR․​
  3. Rectangular stone structures dug in the ground, spread throughout the territory․
  4. A quarry located at the western end of the territory.
  5. A spring located at the bottom of a gorge in the northwestern part.

Carahunge Observatory

The large menhirs of Carahunge are located on the eastern border of the archaeological site, stretching from the north-south sections, which Paris Heruni called the Central Circle, North-South Arms, N-E Alley, the Chord (crossing the Circle), and Separate Standing Stones.

The menhirs are made of basalt, the height varies from 0.5 to 3 m, and the weight up to 10 tons. Most of the stones are currently in their original position. There are holes on 85 stones, which have a diameter of 4-5 cm and from both sides well-designed narrowing deviation towards the center. There are also broken stones. The menhirs of Carahunge were moved from the alley of the nearby Dar river canyon. Holes were drilled in the ground, megaliths were placed, fixed in the right directions, and used as instruments for certain astronomical purposes. Because of the excavations some of them are damaged or displaced.

The Central Circle and Temple of AR (Sun in Armenian)

The Central Circle consists of 40 stones. It is egg-shaped to the West. In the center of the Circle is the central cromlech, in the center of which, at a depth, is a rectangular structure (7×5) m2. According to academician Paris Heruni, the Central Circle and NE short Alley, which is directed to the sunrise point in Summer solstile day, served for solemn ceremony in honor of God AR.

The direction of the Temple of AR (Sun) is from west to east, the entrance is from the west. The temple of AR is surrounded by two stone circles, the smallest of which is round, built of small processed stones, and the largest, as we have mentioned, is an elliptical, composed of large menhirs. 

A group of researchers who used a sensitive magnetometer found that the natural magnetic field lines inside the central region look like a spiral.

Some of the slabs of the temple of AR have holes, one of which faces north-east. Circles with menhirs and processed stones around the temple of AR are part of the ritual ceremonies of the temple of AR. It is difficult to say what the original appearance of the structure was, as it has suffered for centuries from treasure hunters, also from the hands of archaeologists of our times. In recent years, so-called excavations have been carried out here using heavy equipment, which is a vandalism.

The North Arm

The North Arm of the archaeological site`s menhirs consists of 80 separate stones, 49 of which have holes. The length of the Arm is 136 m. The northern end is divided into west-east alleys, each of which is 50 m long. There are also paved alleys 1-1,5 m wide. Along paths in opposite side of the stones there are small megaliths, which perhaps served as “seats” for observers. There are similar alleys in the South Arm.

The South Arm

The South Arm of the monument goes to South from the Central Circle for 75 m, then turns to WW-S and continues for 40 m more. It consists of 70 stones, 26 of which have holes. After the end of the North Arm there are paved alleys 1-1,5 m wide. Along paths in opposite side of the stones there are small megaliths, which perhaps served as “seats” for observers.

North-East Alley

The North-East Alley includes 8 stones, 2 of which have holes. It has a length of 36 m and width of 8 m and is on bank of about 0.5 m in height.

The Chord

Chord crosses the Central Circle (circle of menhirs of the temple of Sun) and is as the continuation of North Arm pending to connect it with South Arm. The Chord includes 20 stones, 6 of which have holes.

Separate Standing Stones

There are separate standing stones in different parts of the archaeological site, at the East and West sides at a distance of up to 90 m and more. There are also lying stones, including those with holes.

Rectangular Stone Structures dug in the ground

The whole area of the archaeological site is covered with huge menhirs, different structures (stone walls of different thickness, streets, rectangular structures dug in the ground, covered with large stone slabs). Throughout the territory of the monument, there are structures of the indicated rectangular shape (see Fig. 6). They are oriented with a slight deviation from west to east, like the central chamber – the Temple of the Sun. Almost all underground structures have yards at the entrance, with stone fences. The yards are of different sizes, about 100-400 m2 (even 1000 m2 on the outskirts of the archaeological site).

The mentioned structures dug in the ground were covered with a corbel arch, covered with large stone slabs, which in their turn were covered with soil and boulders, and finally with clay material, which protected the structure from precipitation and cold. Such structures dug in the ground have been observed in several archaeological sites of the Geghama mountain range and in the Sisian region.

The Quarry

Numerous menhirs have been placed in the area of ​​Carahunge archaeological site, a large number of fences-walls, rectangular stone structures have been built, for which huge boulders of lavas in the southwestern part of the archaeological site were used. The quarry is almost adjacent to the archaeological site, but the stones were moved around, along a more convenient road (see Fig. 8). The boulders were moved in an already slightly processed state (except for holes), as evidenced by the stone mounds in the quarry.

The Spring

The archaeological site was supplied with water, the natural spring is located at the bottom of the gorge in the western part of the archaeological site(see Fig. 8), about 50 meters below the level of the archaeological site. In spring and at the beginning of summer, a small river flows through the mentioned gorge, which almost dries up in summer, and a small amount of cold drinking water always flows from the spring, which provided water to the inhabitants of the archaeological site. Due to the spring, the gorge is green all summer long. Now the place of the spring is almost invisible, it is covered with the soil cover and  puddles.

The holes of the stones

84 of the menhirs of Carahunge have holes, which are a unique phenomenon for the ancient monuments (observatories). Holes made in these giant stones ensure high accuracy and stability of the direction of observation. The holes are 4-5 cm in diameter and are located 15-20 cm below the tops of the stones. The holes are conically widened, well processed and polished. Most of the holes are directed to different points of the real horizon, and some are looking at the sky.

The presence of narrow-diameter holes directed at specific points in the sky allowed Paris Heruni to accurately calculate the age of the Carahunge Observatory using astronomical methods.

Here are several arguments in favor of the fact that the holes of Carahunge’s menhirs were made in site, for observing the luminaries, and not for moving:

  1. The holes are carefully processed. There was no need to do this in order to pull the stones.
  2. The holes are almost the same size; they all are funnel shaped: on both sides they are widened and carefully processed, while in the center they are sharpened, it would damage the rope for pulling.
  3. The holes are made in the thinnest edges of 10 ton stones, they definitely could not withstand the pulling.
  4. Only some of the menhirs have holes.
  5. There are stones whose holes are half dug.
  6. There is, for example, a periscope stone, the hole in which is dug at first straight, and then bent upwards.
  7. The largest menhirs have no holes, and the relatively medium and small stones, which can be easily moved by several people, have holes.
  8. The stones are specially processed for comfortable long observations through the holes: comfortable places are dug on the stones to put the chin, elbows, legs and knees.

The dating of Carahunge

Paris Heruni calculated the age of Carahunge Observatory using several methods. “Thus, the age of Carahunge Observatory (when it was active) is more than 7500 years (half of the 6th millennium BC)” (Paris Herouni, Armenians and Old Armenia, Yerevan-2006, p.73).

Many scientists from all over the world, who got acquainted with the research of Paris Heruni in Carahunge, not only confirmed them but also came to the conclusion that Carahunge has a history of at least 12 000 years (Graham Hancock). 

Hayk Malkhasyan, a Research Associate at the Byurakan Observatory, in his article by both astronomical and geometric methods, shows that this Ancient Observatory could have been built 32,300 years ago in the form of a constellation of Swan. During its long operation, the astronomical complex underwent some reconstruction 7800 years ago. (Hayk Malkhasyan, (“Communications” of the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory scientific journal, 2020

Contrary to this, archaeologist Ashot Piliposyan believe that the age of the monument does not exceed 2000 AD. (Middle Bronze Age)

In addition to archeological and astronomical methods, there is also a comparative method, which can orient the specialist in terms of the sequence of monuments’ construction.

Archaeologists classify megalithic monuments according to their processing: 

“Unprocessed (for example: Carahunge, Khnatsakh, Balak, Al lake), hewn (Harzhis, Aylagh, Khnatsakh), polished (Harzhis, Gomk)” (H. Avetisyan, A. Gnuni, A. Bobokhyan, G. Sargsyan, Megalithic monuments of Armenia and the problem of their classification, Yerevan State University).

Naturally, “Unprocessed” monuments such as Carahunge must be older than the “hewn” carved temple of Portasar (Gobekli Tepe) in the same Armenian Highlands. In other words, Carahunge is older than Portasar (12 000 years ago).

Thus, summarizing all the studies connected with Carahunge until today, we can conclude that the territory is a multi-layered historical monument, where the main predominant role in the monument group is attributed to the group of megalithic monuments: standing stones, which:

  1. Are arranged in the form of stars of the constellation Vulture (Swan)․
  2. The megaliths mostly stand on well-made hand-made foundations, which is well seen in the excavated areas, which proves that the monument was of great importance, it was necessary to build it to serve its purpose for a long time, for centuries and not to lose its accuracy․
  3. The stones have the degree of processing necessary for their purpose – at the bases they are wider, towards the top they are narrower and more pointed, aimed at the corresponding observation points, for which holes are made in the upper thin part that have clear logical directions and angles of inclination relative to the horizon lines, and some have more than one hole for observation in different directions.
  4. The location of the monument is not accidental, the best conditions for observations are chosen: it is surrounded by mountains from south-west, west, north, east and southeast, and the horizon opens from the south, increasing the field of observation of the starry sky, typical of a modern observatory. From a geological point of view, this place has rich layers formed by millennia, in which seismic shakings are extinguished, which is especially facilitated by the gorge cutting from the north-west. The shock-resistant foundation of the monument is conditioned by these circumstances. This is why this complex dating back thousands of years (32,000 years) still stands today․
  5. In the surrounding area there are many underground and semi-underground structures, which, with their geometric layout, have a clear orientation towards geographical directions. They are in the lower parts of the landscape to be protected from the wind․ There are also holes in the stone slabs of the corbel arch of these structures, which were probably part of standing stones at the time; later when they lost their main function, had a secondary use․

The above-mentioned characteristic features of the structure clearly show that the origin and functional purpose of Carahunge is directly related to observations of celestial bodies and was an astronomical complex with a great accuracy․ Later, detailed measurements carried out in the summer of 2020 (ensuring accuracy to the millimeter) will reveal the complete picture of Carahunge․  


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