Kokino, a Bronze Age observatory in North Macedonia

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Kokino foto visitmacedonia

Kokino is an archaeological site in Northern Macedonia which includes a megalithic observatory. The site lies at an altitude of 1,030 metres on the summit of Tatichev Kamen, around 75 km from Skopje and 35 km from Kumanovo. It can be reached by a paved road except for the last 500 metres.

The discovery of Kokino

The observatory was discovered by accident in 2001 by a team of Bulgarian and Macedonian archaeologists. Research began in 2002 by the National Museum in Kumanovo. It dates from 1800 BC, the Early Bronze Age, and extends over an area of 5,000 m2.

The megalithic observatory lies on a volcanic hill, on rocks created from solidified lava which leaked out of a crater. Time and erosion have caused the rocks to split and some of these cracks formed the most important markers for measuring time and the cycles of the sun and the moon.

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The seven most distinctive markers showed the places where the sun and the moon rose during the shortest days, at the equinoxes and during the longest days, as well as deviations. Natural markings in the rocks at these places tell us that the sun rises here every 18.6 years. It is only at the equinoxes – on 21 March and 21 September – that the sun rises precisely in the East and moves steadily towards the West. After that there is a gradual deviation to 45 degrees.

The observatory at Kokino stands on two stone plateaux from which the planets could be followed. Traces of various objects and ceramic shards have been found on the upper level. Presumably some members of the native community  had the daily task of observing the movements of the astronomical bodies and making calendars. These were used to designate the ritual days, as well as the beginning of seasonal jobs relating to agriculture and cattle-rearing.

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Archaeological finds at Kokino

The observatory was a holy place and archaeologists have found no traces of houses at Kokino. Objects were placed in the splits between the rocks as an offering to the gods. There is also a kind of throne on the site, presumably where the elders and leaders of the tribe would sit. Countless objects have been found at the site during excavations , such as ceramic combs, amphora-shaped vessels, stone axes etc.)

A number of artefacts were found in archaeologically significant places. Kokino occupies a dominant position on a hill and commands an extensive view over the surrounding area. The top is reached by a gentle slope lit by the sun from the east. Archaeological find sites and topographical features confirm its use as a holy mountain, where Bronze Age inhabitants performed “mountain rituals”.

Almost all archaeological artefacts were found at and just below the highest point of the site, on the northern slope of the hill. Excavations identified two kinds of ritual structures: ritual pits and round stone structures. The discovery of a saucer-shaped vessel suggests that it was designed for offerings of libations (drops of liquids). Many of the finds at Kokino date from the Early Bronze Age (21st to 17th century BC), and the Late Bronze Age (14th to 11th century BC). There are fewer finds from the Middle Bronze Age …

Recent archaeological research at Kokino

Recent excavations at Kokino have uncovered traces of an Iron Age settlement dating from a later time (7th century BC), built on the southern slope of the hill. This is significant evidence that the site was no longer regarded as being holy, although its use as an observatory may well have continued. Archaeological finds in the ritual pits and circular stone structures include fragments of ceramic vessels as well as handmade grain mills, pyramid shaped weights, spindles, moulds for pouring bronze objects, stone axes etc. Small ceramic images were placed inside the ritual structures, with representations of human body parts and domestic animals.

Around 100 ritual pits have been found on the site, formed around natural cracks in the rocks by closing up the crack with a mixture of earth and smaller stones and sometimes clay. The archaeological artefacts lie at the bottom of the pit, covered with earth and small stones. The openings of these filled pits are surrounded by stone slabs which do not occur naturally in this area.

Circle-shaped stone constructions at Kokino

The circular stone structures consist of an arrangement of larger pieces of naturally broken stones. The circle has a diameter of 1-2 meters. After gifts were placed in the central part of the circle, the stones were covered with earth and smaller stones.

The Ancient Observatory at Kokino (or the Megalithic Observatory Kokino) is one of the most interesting parts of this site. Oriented west-east, the observatory consists of a lower western and a higher eastern platform (A and B) with a height difference of 19 meters between them; and also a western and a northern astronomical platform (C and D). The platforms A and B were used for rituals.

Appropriate markings on platform C were used for observations of the sunrise during the longer days of summer and the shorter days in winter. The markings for the minimum and maximum declination of the full moon, in winter and summer, make the observatory especially significant.

The prehistoric inhabitants of this region knew that the same phase of the moon would appear at the same place on the horizon on the same calendar day every 19 years.

Astronomical investigation has proven that the astronomical platform C and its markings were laid out in the second half of the 19th century BC. Based on observations of the full moon the prehistoric watchers of the heavens above Kokino had a calendar with a cycle of 19 years. Making the calendar was a great achievement for these prehistoric inhabitants and is a fine example of their well-organised life and spiritual culture.

Text                 Harrie Wolters

Translation     Alun Harvey

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