Rujm el-Hiri: Israel’s Stonehenge

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This ancient megalith monument, consisting of concentric stone circles and a tumulus at the center, although looks impressive from the air, is hardly visible from the ground. The walls are just six feet high; only the central mound is higher. Located in the middle of a bare expanse of field in the Israeli-occupied portion of the Golan Heights, this otherwise large stone monument went unnoticed for centuries. It was discovered by Israeli archeologists only after the territory was captured from Syria in 1967.

The Syrians called it Rujm el-Hiri, which means "stone heap of the wild cat" in Arabic. In Hebrew, it is named Gilgal Refaim, which means the “wheel of Refaim”, where “Refaim” is an ancient race of giants, mentioned in the Bible, that supposedly lived in Iron Age Israel. The word “Refaim” in modern Hebrew also means "ghosts" or "spirits". This reference to “giants” and “ghosts” alludes to its gigantic size —the stone circle is 160 meters across— as well as to the mystery of who built the complex and the purpose behind it.

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Photo credit: Israeltourism/Flickr

The structure consists of a large circle of basalt rocks, containing four smaller concentric circles, each getting progressively thinner. The walls of the circles are connected by irregularly placed smaller stone walls perpendicular to the circles. At the center is a heap of rocks, known as a cairn. The cairn is about 5 meters tall, and is the tallest part of the entire structure. It is estimated that Rujm el-Hiri contains more than 40,000 tons of basalt rocks.

Rujm el-Hiri is dated to about 3000 BC, which makes it contemporary to England's Stonehenge. This is why it is often referred to as the "Stonehenge of the Levant."

As with most megalith sites, there is no record of who built Rujm el-Hiri or for what purpose. One theory is that Rujm el-Hiri was an astronomical calendar. It appears that in the year 3000 BCE, on the longest day, the first rays of the sun shone through the opening in the north-east gate. However, the alignment is not perfect, which is assumed to be an indication of the lack of precise knowledge or the lack of accurate architectural tools. Another theory is that the Rujm el-Hiri is a tomb even though no human remains have been found.

The obscure site lies close to Israeli military camps and is therefore accessible only on weekends and holidays.

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Photo credit: Michael Homan/Flickr

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Photo credit: Michael Homan/Flickr

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Photo credit: Michael Homan/Flickr

Sources: Wikipedia / Reuters

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