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Coordinates: 32°54′31″N 35°48′03″E / 32.908705°N 35.800705°E / 32.908705; 35.800705

Rujm el-Hiri or Gilgal Refaim

Rujm el-Hiri (Arabic: رجم الهرة‎, Rujm al-Hīrī, also romanized as Rujm Hiri and Rujum al-Hiri) is an ancient megalithic monument consisting of concentric circles of stone with a tumulus at center.[1] It is located in the Golan Heights some 16 kilometers (10 mi) east of the eastern coast of the Sea of Galilee, in the middle of a large plateau covered with hundreds of dolmens. Also called Rogem Hiri (its Arabic name in Hebrew), another more recent Hebrew name for the site is Gilgal Refaim (גלגל רפאים, Gilgal Refā'īm).[2][3][4]

Made up of more than 42,000 basalt rocks arranged in concentric circles, at center is a mound 15 feet (4.6 m) tall.[2] Some circles are complete, others incomplete. The outermost wall is 520 feet (160 m) in diameter and 8 feet (2.4 m) high.[5] The establishment of the site, and other nearby ancient settlements, is dated by archaeologists to Early Bronze Age II (3000–2700 BCE).[1] There are several hypotheses regarding its purpose and uses, ranging from a calendar, to a tomb or site of worship.

Contents

Origins of the name

The name Rujm el-Hiri was originally obtained from Syrian maps.[6] Translated from Arabic into English, it means, "the stone heap of the wild cat."[2] The term rujm in Arabic (pl. rujum; Hebrew: rogem) can also refer to a tumulus, a heap of stones underneath which human burial space was located.[7]

Rogem Hiri is the Hebrew translation of the Arabic name, Rujm el-Hiri.[2][3] More recently, another Hebrew name for the site is also being used: Gilgal Refaim (Gilgal Refā'īm or Galgal Refā'īm, "Wheel of Refaim").[4] Refa'im in modern Hebrew means "ghosts" or "spirits". The same root underlies the word used in the Tanakh to refer to a race of giants, the "Rephaites", described as the ancient people of the Bashan (modern Golan).

Structure and description

The site's dimensions and its location on a wide plateau scattered with hundreds of dolmens, means that an aerial perspective allows for a fuller appreciation of its layout.[5] From above one can see a large circle (slightly oval) of basalt rocks, containing four smaller, concentric circles, that get progressively thinner, with some complete, others incomplete.[8] The walls of the circles are connected by irregularly placed smaller stone walls.[8]

Basalt rocks are common in the Golan Heights, due to the region's history of volcanic activity. Described as the "Stonehenge of the Levant," the site is made up of 37,500 metric tons of partly worked stone stacked up to 2 meters (7 ft) high.[9] A central tumulus 65 feet (20 m) in diameter and 15 feet (4.6 m) high is surrounded by concentric circles, the outermost of which is 520 feet (160 m) in diameter and 8 feet (2.4 m) high.[5] Two entrances to the site face the northeast (29 meters (95 ft) wide) and southeast (26 meters (85 ft) wide).[5][10] The northeast entrance leads to an accessway 20 feet (6.1 m) long leading to the center of the circle which seems to point in the general direction of the June solstice sunrise.[9][10] The axis of the tomb discovered at the site's center is similarly aligned.[9]

The central tumulus (or tomb) is built from smaller rocks and is thought to have been constructed about 150 years after the surrounding walls were constructed.[9] Connecting to it are four main stone walls. The first wall, shaped like a semicircle, is 50m in diameter and 1.5m wide. That wall is connected to a second one, an almost complete circle 90m in diameter. The third wall is a full circle, 110m in diameter and 2.6m wide. The fourth and outermost wall is the largest: 150m in diameter and 3.2m wide.

History and purpose

Prior to 1967, the Golan Heights formed part of Syria. Israel occupied the area after the 1967 war, and the site was "discovered" during an Israeli archaeological survey carried out in 1967-68.[5] Already mentioned on Syrian maps, a Syrian triangulation post was found on top of its cairn.[6] The area's residents, of course, have known it for millennia, but scientific research of it commenced after it came under Israeli control. After initial research the site was mostly abandoned, and the first professional archaeological excavations of it only began in the 1980s, when it became the focus of interest for scientists and researchers, following the work of Professors Moshe Kochavi and Yoni Mizrachi.

Due to the site's age and its deteriorated state, having been weathered by the elements, its purpose remains unclear. However, one fact is accepted among all researchers - at some point in history the site served as a place of worship and tribal gatherings. In the site's center, inside the Dolman, researchers found an ancient tomb, filled with jewelry and other expensive objects. The tomb was dated to the end of the second millennium BCE. The structure itself predates the tomb, and thus the people who buried the individual there are not the site's original builders.

Main hypotheses concerning the site's purpose

  • Burial site, for leaders or other important individuals. Supporting this theory was the tomb in the Dolman. However, no human remains were found, only objects pointing to its function as a tomb. Also, even if it were a tomb, that was not the site's original function, as the tomb is a 1,000 years newer than the site itself.
  • Worship - According to this hypothesis, supported by a large part of the researchers, the site was used for special ceremonies during the longest and shortest days of the year. It seems, that on the year 3000 BCE, on the longest day, the first rays of the sun shone through the opening in the north-east gate, which is 20 by 29 metres. However, they did not shine in a perfect angle. It is assumed this is because the builders of those days didn't have sufficiently accurate architectural tools. The resident probably used the site to worship Tammuz and Ishtar, the gods of fertility, to thank them for the good harvest during the year. After the erection of the tomb in the center, the rays' path was blocked.
  • Calendar - Some believe the site was used an as ancient calendar. Although the site could not be used to calculate an exact date, it was sufficient for the people's needs. At the times of the two equinoxes, the sun's rays would pass between two rocks, 2m in height, 5m in width, at the eastern edge of the compound. This way, they could know when the first rains would come, and determine the right time to sow or reap their crops.
  • Astronomical observations - Perhaps the site was used for astronomical observations of the constellations, probably for religious calculations. Researchers found the site was built with dimensions and scales common for other period structures, and partly based on the stars' positions. However, they could not explain a large part of the structure, including the smaller walls connecting the circles.
  • A placemark - Perhaps the mark is intended to mark the place. Modern placemarks are abundant, and required for many purposes, such as land and nation borders. Similar purposes in antiquity would have required marking places also.

After the civilization who built the site grew and evolved, it seems to have lost its importance, and had little use beside a military observation post, or a pen for livestock. Due to the antiquity of the site and similarities to other sites, some outlandish explanations have also been suggested.

Rujm el-Hiri today

The site is currently inside an IDF training ground, but it can be visited freely in the weekend, when there is no risk of military activity in the area.[citation needed]

As a result of New Age movements, advocating a return to nature, and the "natural religions", every year a group of "New Agers" gathers at the site on the summer solstice, and on the equinox, to view the first rays of the sun shine though the rocks.

A new archaeological field project on the site was initiated in 2007 by Yosef Garfinkel and Michael Fraikhman from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

See also

References

  1. ^ a b Negev and Gibson, 2005, p. 207.
  2. ^ a b c d Murphy-O'Connor, 2007, p. 457.
  3. ^ a b "Rogem Hiri - Ancient Mysterious Construction". Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/History/Early%20History%20-%20Archaeology/Rogem%20Hiri%20-%20Ancient-%20Mysterious%20Construction. Retrieved 2009-08-24. 
  4. ^ a b "In the wildcat's pile of stones". Ha'aretz. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=289428&contrassID=2&subContrassID=11&sbSubContrassID=0&listSrc=Y. Retrieved 2009-08-24. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Negev and Gibson, 2005, p. 443.
  6. ^ a b Israel Exploration Society, 1996, p. 194.
  7. ^ Negev and Gibson, 2005, p. 518.
  8. ^ a b Ruggles, 2005, p. 366.
  9. ^ a b c d Aveni, 2001, p. 323.
  10. ^ a b Murphy-O'Connor, 2008, p. 478.

Bibliography

  • Aveni, Anthony F. (2001). Skywatchers (2nd, revised, illustrated ed.). University of Texas Press. ISBN 0292705026, 9780292705029. 
  • Israel Exploration Society; Miśrad ha-ḥinukh ṿeha-tarbut. Dept. of Antiquities and Museums, Ḥevrah la-ḥaḳirat Erets-Yiśraʾel ṿe-ʻatiḳoteha (1996). Israel exploration journal. 46. Israel Exploration Society. 
  • Murphy-O'Connor, Jerome (2008). The Holy Land: an Oxford archaeological guide from earliest times to 1700 (5th, illustrated ed.). Oxford University Press US. ISBN 0199236666, 9780199236664. 
  • Negev, Avraham; Gibson, Shimon (2005). Archaeological encyclopedia of the Holy Land (4th, revised, illustrated ed.). Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 0826485715, 9780826485717. 
  • Ruggles, Clive L. N. (2005). Ancient astronomy: an encyclopedia of cosmologies and myth (Illustrated ed.). ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1851094776, 9781851094776. 

External links

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