Everyone’s heard of Stonehenge. You could probably venture into the Amazonian jungle and seek out an untouched tribe of hunter-gatherers, spend months gaining their trust and learning their language, fighting off dysentery while you’re at it, and when their chief finally makes you an honorary member of their society, against the emphatic advice of his shaman, you could ask them if they’ve heard of Stonehenge, and the answer would probably be: yes.
Some might say that’s overstating the matter a touch, but the point stands. The sarsen stones of Wiltshire are famous; they’ve made their way into popular culture the world over. Though, would it surprise you to know that Stonehenge isn’t the only megalithic stone circle in the world? Probably not, but most don’t realise that there are somewhere on the order of 5000 stone circles around the world. Some exist as collections of circles, like the Senegambian circles in Gambia, Senegal, which are counted as one circle in the global list, but which actually consists of more than 1000 individual monuments covering an area of 15,000 square miles.
Great Britain boasts a large number of these Neolithic sites, but they don’t have a monopoly on henges, as they’re called over there. One of their neighbours actually has quite a few as well.
Standing alongside such geological oddities as Russia’s Manpupuner stone pillars, or the Seven Sleeping Giants, some of the most interesting Neolithic monuments stand within the borders of the former Soviet Union.
Arkaim is one of those sites. Arkaim, or Аркаим in Russian, is considered by some to be the most important and enigmatic archaeological site in northern Europe. The site is wrapped in controversy and is sometimes referred to as Russia’s Stonehenge. It sits on the outskirts of the Chelyabinsk oblast in the southern Urals, just north of the Kazakhstan border. Though it’s not a stone circle in the way that Stonehenge is a stone circle.
Arkaim is the remnants of an ancient settlement, which is basically a village that was fortified by two large stone circular walls. The settlement covers an area of some 220,000sq-ft and consists of two circles of dwellings separated by a street, with a central community square in the center. The site was discovered (rediscovered?) in 1987 by a team of Russian archaeologists, and a wave of excitement washed through the world of archaeology. The site and associated artefacts have been dated to the 17th century BCE and it’s generally agreed that it was built somewhere between 4000-5000 years ago, which puts it in the same age bracket as Stonehenge.
Arkaim has another name, one that’s not exactly kosher. It’s called Swastika City, or alternately Mandala City. It has this name for a couple reasons, firstly, if one uses their imagination, the layout of the dwellings around the central square almost looks like it’s in the shape of a swastika. As we all know the swastika is the misappropriated sign of the Nazis and of the so-called Aryan race, and which has been adopted by modern white-supremacy groups. The second reason is that the settlement is thought to have been of the Sintashta culture, which is an Indo-Iranian race (actually a language identity) of the ancient Eurasian Steppe, or in common terms, the Aryan race. So, as you can see, there are those who would like to assert that Arkaim is in fact the birthplace of the superior white race of humans, though few in mainstream science see any value in that line of reasoning.
The site holds more interesting secrets than just its association to a politically incorrect aspect of our culture however.
It has been of great interest to archaeoastronomers, and therein lies the reason for its association with Stonehenge. It’s long been known that Stonehenge has and was built with astronomical observation in mind. In fact it’s technically called an observatory. Stonehenge allowed for, and possibly may still allow for observations of 10 astronomical phenomena using 22 elements, whereas some archaeoastronomers claim that Arkaim allows for observations of 18 phenomena using 30 elements. This essentially means that certain events in the sky could be observed and tracked by using the site in particular ways and from different positions, and that Arkaim offered more observable events than Stonehenge.
It would seem that Arkaim is an even better astronomical observatory than its namesake. According to Russian archaeologist K.K. Bystrushkin Stonehenge offers an observational accuracy of 10-arc minutes to a degree, whereas Arkaim offers accuracy of 1-arc minute. This precision is unheard of in the time frame allowed, and was only surpassed by that documented in the Almagest of ancient Greece some 2000 years later.
It may seem obvious to some, but the fact that these sites were apparently constructed, deliberately, to act as astronomical observatories and even calendars of a sort, before the same expertise was achieved in the great foundational empires of antiquity, like the Egyptians and the Greeks, is seemingly strong evidence for attributing greater development and sophistication to these pre-historic cultures. The more conspiratorial among us might even say that these sites offer clues to the existence of an unknown or lost civilization in our distant past.
Arkaim is but one example of the rich archaeological bounty hidden away in the Russian interior. Similar sites have been lost to industrial progress, such as Sarkel, a limestone and brick fortress built by the Khazar culture in 830AD, which was flooded by the Russian government for the construction of the Tsimlyansk resevior in 1952. Due to the secrecy and lack of academic cooperation during the cold war and possibly to language barriers, many such sites still exist, but have yet to be explored and analysed, and more still are yet to be discovered.