Zorats Karer (Armenian: Dik-dik karer), also called Karahunj, Qarahunj or Carahunge and Carenish is a prehistoric archaeological site near the town of Sisian in the Syunik Province of Armenia. It is also often referred to in international tourist lore as the “Armenian Stonehenge”.
The Carahunge Monument consists of the following parts: the central circle, the north arm, the south arm, N-E alley, the chord (crossing the circle) and separate standing stones.
The site is rich with stone settings, burial cists and standing stones – Menhirs. In total registered 223 stones.
The heights of the stones range from 0.5 to 3 m (above ground) and weight up to 10 tons. They are basalt (andesite) stones, eroded by time and covered with moss and lichen of many colours. The inside surface of holes preserved much better. There are also many broken and unnumbered stones.
About 80 of the stones feature a circular hole, although only 37 of the stones, with 47 holes, are still standing. They have been of interest to Russian and Armenian archaeoastronomers who have suggested that the standing stones could have been used for astronomical observation.
Seventeen of the stones were associated with observations of sunrise or sunset at the solstices and equinoxes, and 14 with the lunar extremes. However, this must remain conjectural as the holes are relatively unweathered and may not even be prehistoric in origin.
Zorats Karer was investigated in 2000 by archaeologists from the Institut für Vorderasiatische Archäologie, University of Munich, as part of a field survey of prehistoric sites in southern Armenia. They identified the site as a necropolis dating mainly from the Middle Bronze Age to the Iron Age, finding enormous stone tombs from those periods within the area.
Team leader Stephan Kroll also concluded that the lines of stones were actually the remains of a city wall, possibly from the Hellenistic-period, that had been constructed mostly of rubble and loam, and in which the upright stones had acted as reinforcements.
Archaeoastronomer Clive Ruggles wrote that ‘Inevitably there have been other claims—more speculative and less supportable—relating to the astronomical significance of the site. One is that it can be astronomically dated to the sixth millennium BCE and direct comparisons with Stonehenge, which few now believe was an observatory, are less than helpful.’
Investigation by radiophysicist Paris Herouni and his research team during 1994-2001 led them to the now disputed conclusion that Carahunge is the world’s oldest astronomical observatory.
A recent critical assessment found several problems with the archaeoastronomical interpretations of the site. The northeast avenue, which extends about 50 meters from the center, has been inconsistently associated with the summer solstice, the major northern lunistice, or the rising of Venus.
Herouni had postulated that in order to use the holes in the megaliths for astronomical observations sufficiently precise to determine the date of the solstices, it would have been necessary to restrict the field of vision by inserting a narrow tube in the existing perforations. Without these modifications, for which there is no archaeological evidence, the claimed astronomical significance of the orientations of the holes vanishes.
As a consequence, González-Garcia concluded that the archaeoastronomical claims for the site are untenable, although further investigations to determine the astronomical potential of Carahunge and similar sites are merited.
Our reader can now read the ‘Abstract‘ of the paper ‘Carahunge – A Critical Assessment‘, by A. César González-García:
‘Carahunge is a megalithic monument in southern Armenia that has often been acclaimed as the oldest observatory. The monument, composed of dozens of standing stones, has some perforated stones. The direction of the holes has been measured and their orientation is related to the sun, moon, and stars, obtaining a date for the construction of such devices. After a critical review of the methods and conclusions, these are shown as untenable.’