(ORDO NEWS) — On a land dotted with ancient dolmens or tombs dating back to pre-urban centers of civilization in Mesopotamia and Egypt, stands a monument as old as Stonehenge.
According to local legend, it was “the land of ancient giants”. The monument is called Rujm el-Hiri, which means “stone heap of a wild cat.” More recently, it has been known as Gilgal Rephaim, which in Hebrew means “Wheel of Giants”, implying the biblical race of giants.
Rujm el-Khiri was first discovered by archaeologists during aerial photography after the Israeli capture of the Golan Heights in Syria in 1967. The monument is located 16 km east of the Sea of Galilee in the western part of the historic Bashan Plain of the Golan Heights. In 1967-1968, archaeological research was carried out on the territory.
However, full-fledged archaeological excavations were carried out only in 1987-1988. The excavations were carried out by Moshe Kochavi and Yonatan Mizrachi as part of the Geshur Land Project of the Institute of Archeology at Tel Aviv University.
Rujm el-Hiri dates from the Early Bronze Age II (3000-2700 BC) and is considered one of the largest ancient structures in the region. The structure consists of several thousand small basalt stones, the total weight of which is 37,500 tons.
The stone monument has five concentric circles, the diameter of the largest of them is 158 m, and the walls of the four smaller circles become increasingly narrow. All walls are randomly connected by 36 smaller perpendicular walls.
At the center of the monument is a central mound or cairn (tomb) built from smaller stones. The basis of the mound is a buried dolmen or tombstone of two stones 1.5 m high, which support a large horizontal stone. The dolmen is located above the chamber, which is connected to a 3 m long corridor.
Archaeologists have traditionally dated the site and other ancient settlements in the vicinity to the Early Bronze Age II (3000-2700 BC). However, following excavations by Yosef Garfinkel and Michael Freikman of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2007, a reassessment was made.
In 2010, Freikman returned and suggested that the mound was built at the same time as the rings, and not at the end of the later Bronze Age (1550-1200 BC), as previously thought. The rings have been dated to the early Bronze Age based on artifacts found at the site.
The tomb was supposed to contain jewelry and weapons, but it was looted.
However, in the passage, archaeologists found an Eneolithic pin, which may have been dropped by robbers. After finding the pin, Freikman believes that the structure must be dated to the original construction during the Eneolithic period, and the mound was the central part of the ring.
Freikman’s theory is supported by the fact that under two later phases containing Bronze Age finds, an earlier construction phase was found. In the vicinity of Rujm el-Khiri, other Eneolithic sites have been found, including a similar but smaller stone structure.
So what is Rujm el-Hiri?
There are several explanations for the purpose of this place:
- A place of worship for ceremonies held during the longest and shortest days of the year;
- Monumental burial of a major leader or important leader;
- Place of astronomical observations for calculations related to religious purposes;
- Ancient calendar for agricultural purposes.
All these theories are based on the study of artifacts found at the site. One theory stands out from the rest: it takes into account the archaeological evidence, the cultural context of Eneolithic practices, and the surrounding Eneolithic archaeological sites.
Dr. Rami Arav, co-director of the Bethsaida excavation northeast of the Sea of Galilee and professor of religion and philosophy at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, outlined his theory in an article entitled “The Incarnation: Food for Vultures” published in the journal Biblical Archeology Review.
In his opinion, this place was used both for funerary purposes and for “excarnation” – the process of removing flesh from the bones of the deceased to place them in ossuaries (bone boxes) by the inhabitants of the Eneolithic. He describes small clay ossuaries found by the hundreds at various archaeological sites dating back to the Eneolithic.
In the 1st century BC, Jews in the Jerusalem area allowed the bodies of the dead to decompose to the bone for a year in burial caves before placing the scattered bones in ossuaries. As for the earlier people of the Chalcolithic, there is no evidence of how they managed to decompose the bodies to the bone before placing them in the ossuary.
According to Arav, some cultures and civilizations used birds of prey, especially vultures, to remove flesh from the bones of the dead. He bases this on anthropological records of excarnations or “heavenly burials” in many cultures and civilizations.
In his article, Arav uses the ancient Zoroastrian dakhmas or “towers of silence” as an example. In this practice, vultures were used to eat the flesh from the bones of the dead, which were placed on raised platforms to protect the soil from any contamination from decaying bodies.
Since the height of the concentric walls of Rujm el-Khiri decreases towards the central mound, this allowed the vultures to better see the lying bodies from different places on the walls of the structure. After processing the bodies by the vultures, the bones were placed in ossuaries that looked like houses, miniature granaries or silos.
Archaeologists have suggested that the ossuaries symbolize places where new life is stored, as the granaries are filled with seeds or grain to grow new crops. According to them, in this area of the ancient Near East, people of the Eneolithic era believed in resurrection.
Ossuaries were considered “magic boxes” capable of resurrecting the dead.
With reference to researchers, Arav suggests that the Levantine Chalcolithic people originally migrated from the ancient Anatolian region (now southern Turkey).
Studies of material culture have shown striking similarities between the Eneolithic Levant and southern Turkey. It is believed that excarnation was practiced in southern Turkey during the Neolithic and Eneolithic periods.
One example of a “vulture sanctuary” was found at the famous Neolithic site of Çatalhoyuk in southeastern Turkey. A fresco of vultures hovering over decapitated corpses was painted on the wall of the sanctuary, which has been interpreted as a possible excarnation scene.
However, like all theories, Arav’s version is just a theory – and will no doubt cause a lot of controversy and criticism. However, it is intriguing and not all that implausible.
Troy Oakes was born and raised in Australia. He is a professional photographer and enjoys capturing the beautiful scenery of Australia. Troy is also a professional storm hunter and currently lives in Hervey Bay, Australia.
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