The Solar and Lunar Calendar of Karahan Tepe

Pillar Shrine of Karahan Tepe

Turkey’s Stonehenge

Article version: 27-03-2024

In the category ‘my hunebed’ we invite people to write about their own personal thoughts about hunebeds and megalithic monuments. Here is a story of Peter van den Hoek (Archeaoastronomer)

To the southeast of the famous Göbekli Tepe in Turkey is Karahan Tepe. Both structures have in common that they consist of many erected T-pillars. They also both seem to have a connection to the heavens. From this field (Archaeoastronomy) I did research last year on the now excavated round buildings of Göbekli Tepe. This revealed that these structures appear to act as a huge celestial clock and calendar¹. At Karahan Tepe, Hugh Newman and JJ Ainsworth witnessed a connection to the winter solstice in 2020². They were technically assisted by Andrew Collins and Rodney Hale during this discovery. In room AB of this complex, which has been given the name ‘Pillar Shrine’, see drawing, the rising winter sun shines through a porthole in the southeast wall on the head carved out of the west wall. This building also, like Göbekli Tepe, has a calendar function, because on the shortest day of each year this phenomenon can be admired again.

In addition to the head, this structure also consists of ten pillars carved out of the solid rock, plus one loose pillar with a curved shape. Looking at this, I wondered why there were no twelve pillars to be found, like the months of the year. Eleven is a number that I couldn’t immediately link to an astronomical event, but ten did! This is the longest period in years between two lunar standstills…

Suddenly, I saw it! That loose pillar with a curved shape represents the moon! But then the head should also be illuminated by the moon during an important phase of the moon, right? Fortunately, Hugh Newman and JJ Ainsworth had documented their discovery well in an article² and I was able to deduce from all the data that the angle at which a rising celestial body illuminates the head through the porthole must be between 121° and 128°. 121° was the angle at which the midwinter sun rose at the time of construction some 11.400 years ago. Currently this is 120°, so 1° difference, because the tilt of the earth is slightly less now than it was then. This 121° was the southernmost point of the sun’s rise. 128° was the angle at which the moon rose during its major standstill. This was the southernmost point of the moon’s rise, so larger than the sun, hence the name ‘major’ standstill. This southernmost point of the moon’s rise changed from 128° to 114° over a period of nine or ten years. This last angle of 114° rise is smaller than that of the sun in its southernmost rising position. That’s why we speak of a ‘minor’ standstill here. Halfway between these two standstill positions, the moon and sun rose in their southernmost position at 121°. The period in which the Moon rose at 121°, moved to 128° and back to 121° is also nine or ten years. Usually alternately, but also regularly twice nine years because the average is 9,3 years. The head was lit all the while when the moon rose between these southernmost positions. In the other direction, from 121° to 114° and back to 121°, the head was not illuminated immediately by the rising moon. This would take another nine or ten years. In my opinion, these years were counted with the ten fixed pillars in the building, two of which were one after the other, see drawing. Sometimes a round of nine and other times ten years. There was no need to make pillars for the sun, as it returned neatly to its southernmost rising point of 121° every year.

This shows that the structure is much more ingenious than if we only take the sun in mind! I’ve been trying to demonstrate this for Stonehenge³ for years. This structure is much more than just a solar calendar. During a minor standstill, the right stone of the central trilithon is illuminated, right in the middle, by the rising moon, see photo model. During a major standstill, the left stone is illuminated, right in the middle, by the moon. Halfway between the two extreme positions, both stones are partially illuminated by the rising moon. This is also the position in which the sun rises during the summer solstice and therefore the longest day of the year. Around Stonehenge is a circle of 56 holes, which are called Aubrey holes. These, like the fixed pillars of Karahan Tepe, work as a calendar to count the period between two standstills. Two rounds are 112 times one moon cycle making exactly nine years and therefore the shortest period between two lunar standstills.

Model Stonehenge

Lunar standstills, by the way, last more than a year. In these extreme positions, just as the sun does during a solstice, the moon remains stationary for a while. Hence the name standstill! With the sun, this period is shorter and a solstice lasts about twenty days during midwinter. The best time to observe the moon’s play of light on the head of the Pillar Shrine is halfway between the two standstill positions in spring (March). The moon then rises in its last quarter just after midnight and is therefore not hindered by overexposure of the sun. Coincidentally, the head is also looking at the image of the moon in its last quarter from its position. When the moon rises in this position, the back of the head is first illuminated. Then the moonlight slowly moves towards the face and finally leaves the head. The next opportunity to admire this spectacle will be from 6 to 9 march 2029. I hope to be there!

Peter van den Hoek






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