The Mysterious Star-Stones of Artsakh

The Mysterious Star-Stones of ArtsakhArtsakh is a highly mountainous region, as many people probably know. The Soviet-era toponym of the region – Nagorno-Karabakh – even contains the Russian word for “mountainous”, “nagorno”.

Artsakh holds heaven-reaching mountains and unexplored caves housing many secrets to human evolution, not to mention unique archaeological sights. Another kind of artifact from Artsakh, though not as renowned, is the little star-shaped stones that have been believed to rain from the skies in the mounts of the village of Astkhashen (literally meaning “built with stars”) in Artsakh.

Most of the people wouldn’t believe the tales of star-stones raining down from the sky and instead would wonder what they really are and where do they come from. There is plenty of speculation in this regard online. Some claim the star-stones “have formed naturally”, others argue that the stars miraculously appear after a heavy rain. The connection with rain could be established due to the fact that the rainwater has been washing away the dirt from the rocks, uncovering the abundance of those intriguing artifacts for the humans’ attention. Or maybe, some star-stones fell off the side of a cliff down on the trodden pathways, creating the illusion of “raining” star-stones.

While the stars may be magical, the real explanation is even more fascinating. Those star-stones are in reality the ancient fossils of an extinct species nicknamed “sea lilies” (crinoids known as Pentacrinites) that lived deep underwater during the Jurassic 200 to 150 million years ago.

In spite of their nickname, Pentacrinites were marine animals, not plants. The “sea lilies” were composed of a number of calcite plates arranged into different body parts: the stem, arms, and the cup. The stem was composed of a stack of several star-shaped beads with a canal going through the center. The beads are usually fossilized and preserved, and that’s what in reality the star-stones are.

The village of Astkhashen where the star-stones are found is located at an altitude of 1,000 meters (over 3,000 feet), so one might wonder what the fossils of ancient sea creatures are doing on top of the mountains in the Southern Caucasus. Let’s avoid speculating about the Biblical flood myth and instead look at the world map from the early Jurassic period when these creatures thrived in the oceans. As you can see, the world was quite a bit different back then, with Armenia, including Artsakh (marked with a red arrow), being underwater. That’s probably how the fossils of ancient marine animals made it onto the mountains of Artsakh.

Remarkably, such specimens are known as “star stones” in English folklore. Robert Plot, a great Oxford naturalist of the 17th century, believed that they were in some way related to the heavenly stars.

But it turns out that the “star-stones” have been delivered by an ancient ocean. The mystery is solved but the magic is still there, though it is a bit transformed. It demonstrates how a small fossilized artifact perfectly shaped like a star can take us hundreds and millions of years back. The life on Earth was very different then, and by examining these creatures, we investigate the history of evolution and even the emergence of life itself. And Artsakh still has many wonders to show to the world. If only humanity could respond to its kindness with peace…


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