Everyone has heard of Stonehenge in the United Kingdom, but how many people have heard of Zorats Karer in Armenia. Not many, I expect.
Stonehenge fans will be surprised to learn how many parallels there are between the two sites. Both involve circles of standing stones in grassy fields. Both are widely believed to be star charts, used by ancient civilisations for arcane purposes. Both have stones that line up with solstices and equinoxes. And both are completely misunderstood and shrouded in mystery.
Zorats Karer sits in a lonely field on the upper slopes of the Dar River canyon, surrounded on all sides by snow-capped mountains.
This Armenian Stonehenge, as it is commonly called, also goes by the name of Carahunge. Are the similarities in name a coincidence? There are many who think not.
Carahunge is Armenian for Speaking Stones; an appellation it gained as the holes in the standing stones whistle on windy days.
There are 223 standing stones at Zorats Karer, ranging from 0.5 to 3 metres in size. The stones have been arranged in a circular pattern, with one long arm stretching away to the north, and another arm stretching away to the south.
An additional line of stones passes through the central circle, and there are plenty of random stones scattered higgledy-piggledy across the site.
The origins of the site are a complete mystery. There is speculation that the site dates as far back as the 6th Millennium BCE, but this is contested.
Others say the site is much more recent, and put it in the eons of the Bronze or Iron Age.
What is Zorats Karer?
Like Stonehenge, the exact purpose of Zorats Karer is unknown.
Some archaeologists are convinced it’s a star chart, or a tool for making astronomical measurements. And some of the standing stones do seem to line up with various solstices and equinoxes. But the idea that these stones are deliberately aligned with a precise astronomical event could be a case of wishful thinking.
Other archaeologists argue that the site is a necropolis, or the remains of fortifications of an ancient city.
Why do the standing stones of Zorats Karer have holes in them?
Eighty of the standing stones at Zorats Karer have a single hole bored through their upper edge.
The purpose of the hole is unknown.
The star chart hypothesists suggest that an observer peering through these holes on a certain date at a certain time might see a certain star. But this is pure speculation, and critics argue that the holes are so large that an observer peering through them would see hundreds of stars, making them so imprecise as a star chart tool as to be useless.
It’s a mystery that is unlikely to ever be solved.
Practical information for reaching Zorats Karer:
Zorats Karer is on the outskirts of the town of Sisian, in the Syunik Province of Armenia. It’s a 4 hour drive from Yerevan. There are tour companies that visit Zorats Karer as a long day trip from the capital. More transport info here.
Read more about Zorats Karer here.