Wheel of Giants: ‘Stonehenge of the Levant’ Puzzles Archaeologists

The mysterious megalith is contemporary with the UK’s Stonehenge.
Wheel of Giants: ‘Stonehenge of the Levant’ Puzzles Archaeologists
Livestock grazing nearby reveals scale of the enormous stone rings of Rujm el-Hiri megalith on the plains of the Golan Heights. (אסף.צ/CC BY-SA)
Liz Leafloor
In plain sight, but unnoticed for centuries, an unusual megalith near the Sea of Galilee has stumped experts. No one knows who created the enormous stone circles some 5,000 years ago, nor why.

Pattern Within Giant Stone Circles Revealed From the Air

The impressive ancient ruins, located in the Golan Heights (a contested region claimed by both Israel and Syria) are a wheel-like design of enormous piled rocks—an estimated 40,000 tons of black basalt—stacked into at least five concentric rings, with a central burial cairn at its center.

In Arabic, it is called Rujm el-Hiri, meaning the “stone heap of the wild cat.” In Hebrew, it is named Gilgal Refaim, or the “wheel of giants.” The reference to a race of giants in the Bible, the Rephaites, alludes to only one of the many theories as to who built the complex monument, or the purposes behind it. Considering the great size of Rujm el-Hiri, it’s no wonder it might be considered the work of giant beings.

Referred to as “Stonehenge of the Levant,” it is estimated to be approximately 5,000 years old, dated to the Early Bronze Age II period (3000 B.C. to 2700 B.C.), making it contemporary with the U.K.’s Stonehenge monument.

According to Reuters, at ground level it appears to be heaps of crumbling stone walls. Hundreds of dolmens, or rock formations, are scattered across the expansive field at the site, so it was only the aerial archaeological surveys in the late 1960s that finally revealed the whole of the pattern—that of a massive bull’s-eye.

No Bodies Found at the Large Burial Site

Between five and nine massive circular rings surround a central burial chamber, the largest ring measuring more than 500 feet (152 meters) wide, and reaching 3 to 8 feet (1 to 2.5 meters) high. The rings are not all complete, and some of them are connected with short walls, making “spokes” in the giant wheel.

The walls were formed consistently thick, between 10.5 and 10.8 feet (3.2 and 3.3 meters).

It is uncertain whether the burial cairn at the center of this prehistoric megalith was made at the same time as the rings. The central heap of stone is approximately 15 to 16 feet (5 meters) high, and 65 to 80 (20 to 25 meters) feet in diameter.

The dark entrance to the burial chamber found at the center of the megalithic site. (<a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rujm_el_Hiri_View_Top.jpg" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Ani Nimi</a>/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en" target="_blank" rel="noopener">CC BY-SA</a>)
The dark entrance to the burial chamber found at the center of the megalithic site. (Ani Nimi/CC BY-SA)
Inside the burial chamber. (<a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rujm_el_Hiri_Chamber.jpg" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Ani Nimi</a>/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en" target="_blank" rel="noopener">CC BY-SA</a>)
Inside the burial chamber. (Ani Nimi/CC BY-SA)

Precious few artifacts have been uncovered at Rujm el-Hiri, due to its age and an unfortunate history of looting at the site. A single Chalcolithic pin was seemingly dropped by looters at the site. It is thought the central cairn may have once held jewelry and weapons. Excavations of walled chambers did not find any artifacts, indicating the spaces were not used for storage or living spaces.

Although a tomb is located at the center of the wheel, no human remains have ever been found within. Dr. Rami Arav, professor of religion and philosophy at the University of Nebraska–Omaha, proposes that this may be because the funerals involved “excarnation” or the defleshing of bones by birds and wildlife. The remains would later be collected by local inhabitants and placed in bone boxes.

No radiocarbon dating could establish timelines, as no prehistoric organic material was ever recovered from the site.

Trying to Explain the Prehistoric Mystery

Uri Berger, an expert on megalithic tombs for the Israel Antiquities Authority told Haaretz: “It’s an enigmatic site. We have bits of information, but not the whole picture. Scientists come and are amazed by the site and think up their own theories.”

Archaeologists believe the site was not used for dwellings or as a defensive structure, but other than that there’s no consensus on its purpose or function. No other structure like it has been found in the Near East.

One theory is that it’s an astrological calendar. On the June and December solstices, the sunrise aligns with openings on the rocks, said Berger. Some researchers believe the site was used as a place of ritual astrological observance or sun worship until the central burial site was installed, blocking the sun’s rays on the special days.

Further complicating the issue of who built it is the construction work involved. It’s estimated to have required more than 25,000 working days to build up the massive monument. That, combined with the collection and transportation of stone, seems to have required an enormous support network that a nomadic civilization or itinerants may not have had, notes Reuters.

A definite explanation for one of the region’s most unique and puzzling sites continues to elude archaeologists.

Republished with permission. Read the original at Ancient Origins
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Liz Leafloor is an Editor, Writer, Blogger and Designer based in Canada. Having worked in online media for years, Liz covers exciting and interesting subjects like spirituality, history, science, archaeological discoveries, life and death, and the unexplained. She is an editor for popular archaeology and history site Ancient-Origins, and contributing blogger for international news media organization Epoch Times.