Who were THE LORDS OF these RINGS? (Circular formations near Vršac)

On February 17, 2018, the Association “Vlasici”, almost in full composition, headed towards Vršac. The trip was organized by a new member, Tamas Fodor, with two main goals: we wanted to visit an unusual circular formation near that city, and we also had an important meeting with members of a similar, arheoastronomical Society from Romania, with the desire to meet, socialize and exchange research experience.

At about 11 am, we reached the site. When we descended from the asphalt road and walked through the former Big Swamp of Vršac,  we didn’t notice that anything disturbs the uniformity of the plain, covered with yellow grass. Only after reaching the largest circle, walking becomes much harder. The soil is not flat any more, it is also cracked, so it is easy for a leg  to perish into the crack almost to the knee… Four concentric circles are too big, about 150m in diameter, so hard to be noticed from the ground.

Approaching the circular formation…

The photo can be enlarged by the left click (twice), then +

The locality is not archaeologically explored. Only a sondage excavation was done, the findings suggested Neolithic dating. That one probe on the ground is not even clogged, gagging like a wound in the central circle. There are no signs that somebody else has been digging here except the archaeologists. Although not protected by anything, the formation of concentric circles is in a surprisingly good condition. It seems to be protected by the remote location; the salty soil here is unsuitable for farming and the quick way of life of today’s people no longer let them have time to walk around. Until about a hundred years ago it was protected by a swamp, now drained by relatively shallow canals. In spite of drainage, in several places it can be seen that the level of groundwater is high.In addition to this, the size of formation speaks in favor of Neolithic dating (similar Bronze Age circular formations are generally smaller).

The south-eastern horizon looks like this:

Geodetic survey was performed from the center of the formation (the measured diameter of the central circle is 49m).

The azimuths and angular heights (altitudes) of several well-defined points on the horizon were measured. No 5 and No 6 were interesting as the potential winter solstice solar points, No 4 as the potential point of moon rise on the Maior southern Lunar Standstill.

Item no. 1 is the Tower of Vršac, a known local geodetic marker, whose position is precisely defined (45.122819 N 21.315671 E), and the azimuth of the direction to the tower can be easily calculated from the coordinates in WGS / UTM system.

South-east horizon. Photo Tamaš Fodor Dec. 25. 2017.

The photograph of the sunrise on December 25, 2017 was NOT taken from the center, but from a position about 6m south-east of the center. This would mean that the sunrise direction as seen from the center had  a discreetly smaller azimuth, but this can be neglected, given that the horizon is about 12.5 km away. So if the observer moves to the North for 3.63 m,  the azimuth of the observed point on the horizon will change only for 1′.


The geographic coordinates of the center of the circular formation are
φ = 45,210293o λ = 21,287244o WGS/UTM y = 5006351.84  x = 522556.25

The geographic coordinates of the left side of the Tower of Vršac are
φ = 45o 7 ‘21.93”  (45.122758o)     λ = 21o 19 ‘32.55”  (21.325708o)  WGS/UTM y1 = 4996642.10
x1 = 525615.88

y – y1 = 9709.74           x – x1 = – 3059.63    A = 162.509872o             A = 162o 30’ 35’’

The Tower of Vršac, satellite view (Google Maps)

Measured values:



           Azimuth  (A)      Angular height (h)


            162o 31′ 10”


           (1o 47’ 20’’)


            140o 04′ 25”


           (2o 09’ 50’’)


            139o 33′ 45”            (2o 36’ 30’’)


            133o 28′ 35”


           (1o 24’ 20’’)


            129o 07′ 25”
           (2o 29’ 40’’)
(2,494444 o)


            124o 53′ 15”
           (1o 19’ 30’’)

The elevation of the Gudurica peak is H = 641m a.s.l, the distance from the center of the circular formation is d = 12930m. The formation itself is at the elevation of about 79.4m a.s.l, so the elevation difference  is ΔH = 561,6m. Therefore, the expected angular height (altitude) of the peak would be;

ΔH = 561,6м.     Tg h = ΔH : d       Tg h = 561,6 : 12930      h = 2,487014о       h = 2о 29’ 13’’   This is in good correlation with the measured altitude, so these can be taken with confidence. The difference between the measured value and the calculated one is mainly due to terrestrial refraction.

Expected value of terrestrial refraction, expressed in degrees, is calculated if the distance expressed in kilometers is divided by 1500:
12,700: 1500 = 0.0085o = 30.6” rz = 30.6”    When this value is added to the calculated, we get an almost accurate measured value. (Theodolite accuracy is plus-minus 4”)

The conclusion is clear: the measured altitudes can be accepted with confidence.

  • What should be the declination of the winter solstice Sun, to bring the Sun to the Gudurica peak? (Item No. 5)

To calculate this, we should recall that on the winter solstice, the declination of the Sun equals the negative value of the inclination of the Earth’s axis, and that the angular height of the Gudurica Peak should be reduced by the average value of atmospheric light refraction in December: h – r = h ‘
2.494444o – 0.720o = 1.774444o h ‘= 1.774444o

δ = declination of the Sun (on a winter solstice, it is equal  as the negative value of the Earth’s axial tilt)
φ = geograph. latitude (center of the circular formation)
h = altitude
A = azimuth

sin δ = sin φ sin h + cos φ cos h cos A
sin δ = (sin 45,21028o x sin 1,774444o) + cos 45,21028o x cos 1,774444o x cos 129,123611o
sin δ = 0.709697 x 0.030964 + 0.704507 x 0.999520 x -0.630995
sin δ = 0.021975 – 0.444327 = – 0.422352

δ = 24,98o The solution is NOT POSSIBLE, since most accepted calculations of the Earth’s axial inclination indicate that the last maximum was 10000 years ago, when it was            δ = 24o 15′ (24.25o)

Therefore, we will imagine a hypothetical position between point 5 and point 6 (in the half of the slope, where the photo shows a small flat on that slope, which defines the position):



            129o 07′ 25”
           (2o 29’ 40’’)
(2,494444 o)


            124o 53′ 15”
           (1o 19’ 30’’)

This position would have the mean value of the azimuth A = 127.005555o and the mean value of the altitude:  h = 1.909722o.

The altitude, corrected for the value of atmospheric refraction on the horizon (r = 0.720)[1], would be                  h’= 1.189722o

Again, the same formula can be applied:
sin δ = sin φ sin h + cos φ cos h cos A
sin δ = (sin 45,21028o x sin 1,189722o) + cos 45,21028o x cos 1,189722o x cos 127,005555o
sin δ = 0,709697 x 0,020763 – 0,704506 x 0,999784 x – 0,601892
sin δ = 0,014735 – 0,423944 = – 0,409208             δ = – 24,1550o = – 24o 9 ’18’

The  inclination of the Earth’s axis had that value in the middle of the fifth millennium BC (about 4500 BC), and it could correspond to the Vinča culture, which would mean that the winter solstice sunrise could be observed in the middle of the northern slope of the Gudurica peak.

This should not be understood as an attempt at archaeoastronomical dating of the site, but only as an act of curiosity. Such a dating does not make any sense without archaeological research and archaeological dating. It is only when reliable knowledge is gained about the culture to which the site belongs, archaeoastronomical dating will make sense. Until then, all these are just indications. Any way, it is good to provide some kind of technical documentation on the site. Geodetic survey gives horizontal and vertical angles and distances. It allows the creation of maps. The maps will allow some ideas to be checked (later) …

Archaeological research will (perhaps) demonstrate the possible existence of an artificial horizon, with some markers aligned with some astronomical events, pillars, holes on the enclosure etc. In the vicinity of the site, there are several rather ruined mounds (tumuli),  significantly reduced in height due to intensive farming and the use of powerful mechanization.

There are a few more questions that must be posed at this site:

  • Why did the builders of this formation not go a few hundred meters south to build their circles THERE? In that case, they would have a more beautiful and striking winter solstice sunrise at Gudurica hill top. The terrain is flat, there is plenty of space, the elevation is the same…
  • Perhaps the very appearance of the entire Solar Disc had the significance of hierophany for the builders of the structure …

In such a case, the altitude of the center of the Sun would be 16 minutes above the Gudurica peak. And for such a budget we will assume the middle of the 6th millennium BC (5500 BC), or the inclination of the Earth’s axis from δ = 24,1550o = 24o 9 ’18’ ‘to check on which azimuth was the center of the Sun when it reached the targeted altitude.

The altitude of the Gudurica peak (corrected for the value of atmospheric reflection of light on the horizon) should be increased by 16 ‘(0.26666o), since the center of the Sun will be as much above the top. The budget shows that this was not possible, because the resulting azimuth is significantly less than the real one (about 1o).

  • Why did the builders of this formation make FOUR CONCENTRIC CIRCUITS, if one would have been enough for them? Similar formations usually consist of a circular platform surrounded by a trench. Exceptionally, there is another trench, at a certain distance.
  • Did winter solstice Sunrise above the Gudurica peak was possible to be observed from the southernmost point of the circular structure, 75m south of the center?

No, it was not. Mooving to the south for 75m changes the azimuth of the observed point for  1/3o only.

  • This site is interesting because it is on the QUADRANT of the local meridian (approximately 45o of the North latitude). The shadow of the gnomon on the equinox noon is practically equal to its height, which makes it easy to determine the east-west direction.
  • Indeed, to the east of the circles there is an approaching ceremonial road , 12m wide. It is 20m long in the direction of the geographical east. Going further it makes a slight turn (7o) towards the North. It is quite visible on the satellite image.The road is cut of by the drainage channel now, so it is clear that it was created before the digging of this channel. The ceremonial road provides a clear eastern alignment.

Ceremonial road (Google Earth imagery)

Those 20m of ceremonial road towards the east represent one marker of the direction. That’s why we are almost sure that the members of the culture, who built these circles, knew the concept of Cardinal directions. Cardinal directions can be determined ONLY by observing the sky, there’s no other way. The exact direction of the east, determined intentionally, suggests astronomical knowledge in a culture. The other astronomical marker at this site is the direction of the winter solstice sunrise, naturally precisely defined on the horizon at the foot of the hill. But the marker is precise for today, but not for the past. Therefore, for now, it can not be stated that the location of these structures is deliberately chosen by those who were involved in observing the heavens and celestial bodies. Archaeological research of the site is necessary …

Finally, we need to check the results of geodetic survey by comparing  with the simulation on the astronomical software Red Shift 7 of  the first sunrays on December 25, 2017, as it was recorded on a photo by Tamaš Fodor. We have to know whether the measurements can be accepted with confidence.



            129o 07′ 25”
           (2o 29’ 40’’)


            124o 53′ 15”
           (1o 19’ 30’’)

The upper pole of the Sun is on the horizon. So, its center is 16’ lower. Atmospheric refraction has to be taken into account:

1,325000 – 0,720 = 0,605o (0o 35 ’28”) The upper pole of the Sun will be at that altitude, then when the center is at 16′ lower (half of the the Sun’s angular diameter), which gives (0o 20 ’18”)
h – r – 16 ‘= 1o19’30” – 43’12”- 16′ =  0o 20’18” as the altitude of the Sun’s center.

The animation will show the azimuth of upper pole of the Sun, when it reach at the given  altitude:

The “atmospheric effect” option is turned off because the natural horizon is not 0o, so the software does not provide an adequate correction for refraction on the horizon. That’s why the correction was done in advance, “manually”. Refraction is the greatest precisely during sunrise, on the natural horizon which is at    h = 1o 19 ’30 “in the particular case.

The visible part of the Sun is above the black line on the animation, exactly as seen in the photo, on the hillside. It’s not possible to get an absolute match with the photo, because it was not taken from the center of the circular formation, but 6m to the south-east. Any way, the difference from the given azimuth (124o 53’15”) is a few angular minutes and can be justified by the variation of atmospheric refraction (in December, the standard deviation of refraction is 8′ 52”).

For the sake of truth, Tamaš Fodor took some photos of the winter solstice sunrise on December 21. 2017. Unfortunately, the fog covered the horizon, so the photos aren’t documentary but quite beautiful.



In Belgrade  Feb. 19th 2018                                 Aleksandra Bajic



[1] The average value of atmospheric refraction on the horizon is provided from the measurements of Sampson and associates. /Sampson, R. D; Lozowski, E. P; Peterson, A. E; Hube, D.P; 2003, Variability of the Astronomical Refraction of the Rising and Setting Sun, Publications of the Astronomical society of the Pacific 115 (p. 1256 – 1261)/



  • Was this site an ancient observatory, a place for sky watching, from which equinoxes were determined?

There is a high likelihood that this question can be answered positively. On satellite images, as well as on the terrain, there are traces of a ceremonial road, leading from the circular formation to the exact east for 50m, then gently swing about 6o towards the northeast. The road is about 12m wide (approximately the same width as the outer rings of the formation). These 50 m of the ceremonial road, especially its northern border, is a clear marker for the east-west direction  being at the same geographical latitude as the center of the circle.

Ceremonial road

The northern border of the road can be easily  verified at the site. The southern border is visible but partly damaged.

The site is located in the plain and approximately on the QUADRANT of the local Earth’s meridian. The geographic latitude of the site is about 45o (φ = 45,210293o). This position makes it suitable for determining the east-west direction.

Tg φ = 0,991867 This means that on the equinoxes, at NOON, the shadow of a gnomon 99.2 cm long shall be 1m long, directed exactly to the North.

Every day the shadow has its smallest length at NOON and it points to the North (on the northern hemisphere).  It is already known that people in the Neolithic were already able to determine the North. Due to its geographical latitude, this site had an extra advantage: it was easier there to determine East-West direction, due to the shadow of a gnomon and almost plane eastern and western horizon.

But, there is no evidence that the builders of this formation used gnomon. It is clear that they used a rod and a rope to construct their circles, but there is no evidence that they remembered to observe the shadow of the rod. Therefore, it is necessary to see where the Sun rises on the day of the spring equinox (it rose on the same point at every moment of the past, because on the day of the equinox the declination of the Sun is always close to zero δ = 0o.

The eastern horizon  is defined by a part of the road from Vršac towards Vatin, which, according to the map of Military geographical institute No. 381-4-1, to the east of the circular formation, has an elevation of 99m a.s.l. To the East of the road, the elevation is about 100m a.s.l. To the West of it, the terrain is much lower.  The center of the circular formation is at an elevation of 79.4m a.s.l. The elevation difference is therefore ΔH = 19.6m. The distance between the center of the circular formation and the road is about d = 968.30 m. These data allow calculating the angular height of the horizon in the East:

Tg h = ΔH: d    h = 1.159603o h = 1o 9 ’34’ ‘(this value should be corrected for the value of terrestrial refraction, but it is negligible, because the horizon is very close). The Sun, due to the angular height of the horizon, will not rise precisely in the East on equinoxes, but about 0,5o to the South. On the day before the Autumn equinox maybe it will. That is why we will first consider that day.

Autumn Equinox

Since the horizon is not flat, so the computer can not provide an adequate correction for refraction of light on the horizon, the height of the horizon in the east should be corrected for the average refraction value in September:

h’= h – r = 1.159603o – 0.647o = 0.502603o h’ = 0o 30 ‘9”

Red Shift 7 gives the following animation for 22.9.2018, the day before the autumn equinox:

Morning before autumnal equinox

The Sun apparently rises exactly in the East, where half of the solar disc will be seen. At that moment, the observer, standing in the center of the circular formation and looking in the direction of the northern boundary of the ceremonial road, sees the Sun just above that boundary. The Sun is in line with the observer’s eye and with the northern border of the road, set in a precise alignment. The shadow of a gnomon (or of the observer himself) is very long and it points exactly to the West.

At noon on the same day, the shadow of a gnomon is equal to its height, because a somewhat greater declination of the Sun compensates those few arch minutes of “excess” of the latitude of the site over 45o.

The altitude (Alt. on the animation) of the Sun at  noon is:        45o 3′  or 45.05o   tg 45.05o = 1,001

This practically means that the shadow of the 1m long gnomon will be only 1mm shorter, therefore it will be 99,9cm. Such precise measurement was certainly not available to the builders of the circular formation near Vršac.

People were approaching their circular formation walking along the ceremonial road, looking to the West. Perhaps, the moment of equinox sunset was of particular significance in their religion?

In the West direction, the horizon is slightly above the height of the observer’s eyes because of the embankment of an old railway. But, in the distant past the railway was not there; the horizon was plane or slightly negative, but it can’t be measured now.

That’s why we will assume that the natural horizon is flat (plane, 0o)  on the West, and let the astronomical software Red Shift 7 to show the autumnal equinox sunset.

Autumn equinox sunset

It seems that the Sun begins to set right in the west. The shadow of a gnomon points exactly to the East. If the gnomon is at the center of the circle, the shadow goes right along the northern border of the ceremonial road.

It can be concluded that these two days were significant holidays. (Even today important holidays are celebrated for two days) .

Spring (Vernal) equinox

It can be stated that on the day of spring equinox, the situation is “as in the mirror” in respect to the autumnal equinox. The exact day of equinox iz important, but the next day is also important. On the first day, the sunset is right on the West, on the second day the sunrise is accurately on the East. The shadow of a gnomon is almost equal to its height on the day of vernal equinox but it is exactly equal on the second day.


The spring equinox is a very important holiday from very remote past. The day is celebrated as the old-Persian feast of Nowruz, known as the Persian New Year. It has its origins in Mithraism and Zoroastrism, the ancient religions of the Aryans, and is one of the few that is mentioned in Avesta, the sacred writings of this religion. It was celebrated between sunset on the day of the sixth Gahambar (the day before Nowruz) and sunrise of Nowruz, (later known, in its extended form, as Frawardinegan; and today known as Farvardigan). This and the Gahambars are the only festivals named in the surviving text of the Avesta.

Growing wheat grass is one of the most common traditional preparations for Nowruz along with egg painting. These customs can be observed even today in Serbia: growing wheatgrass is a part of Christmas rituals and eggs should be painted for the Easter. (During their ethnogenesis, Slavs absorbed some Aryan tribes, such as Alans, Skythians, Sarmatians…)

It may be that this particular site will be able to show that this holiday has its roots even in a deeper antiquity.

Archaeoastronomers have realized a long time ago that it is much more difficult to determine equinoxes then to determine solstices. It is so because the Sun’s declination changes rapidly during the equinoxes, and the solar year does not last 365 days but almost six hours longer. That is why the moment of the day when the Sun passes the celestial equator is not always the same. If this happens, for example, et noon of the spring equinox, the situation is ideal, but sometimes it happens at midnight. So the next day, “by the behavior” of the Sun, looks exactly like the previous one.

So, when the members of a culture are able to determine solstices, they know the directions of North and South. When they are able to determine equinoxes, they know the directions of East and West.

Ceremonial road (again)

Probably that is why great holidays are celebrated for two days (when the observers make sure that the holidays have passed).

So, it is very likely that the ceremonial road is the most accurate solar alignment that can be found at the site for now.  The builders of this structure were able to determine Cardinal directions. They knew how to find North, South, East and West. They knew how to determine equinoxes.

Was this quote written on the Tartaria tablet?

One of the tablets from Tartaria (Vinča culture)






This year, luckily, during the dawn of the summer solstice in Lepenski Vir, the sky was clear, almost without clouds. The following pictures are taken from 606  (summer Central European time), from the position in front of the Lepenski Vir Museum, located at the altitude of 85.5m, at the following geographical coordinates (given in all three systems in use):

Position 1              Geograph. coord.          decimal (GPS):          WGS 84 (34N)

Latitude:             44° 33′ 25.713252”  N          44.55714257 N             y = 4934269
Longitude:          22° 01’  35.726052″   E        22.02659057 E             x = 581532

Geospatial positioning was performed by Jovan Matović PhD in May 1. 2017, using a professional GPS device, with an accuracy of 15cm.

The author of the photos is Ing Mirko Babić. All of these are documentary, taken without a solar filter and without any subsequent interventions, recorded in high resolution and can be enlarged (left click on the image, then magnification with centering to the brightest place).

DSC07650No. 1: The moment before sunrise

DSC07655No.2: the first sunrays in the notch on the horizon

DSC07662No. 3: the Sun enlightens the notch

DSC07671No. 4: the Sun begins to “climb” up on the northern slope of the hill

DSC07677No. 5: the Sun “climbs” a bit higher…

DSC07692No. 6: …and higher…

DSC07707No. 7: the last ray of the first sunrise

DSC07719No. 8: now, the Sun is obscured by the hill named Treskavac; it is obscured for the next four minutes

DSC07752No. 9: the first ray of the second sunrise on the top of Treskavac

DSC07758No. 10: the second sunrise goes on…

DSC07764No. 11: …and on..

DSC07770No. 12: now, the half of the solar disc is visible. Further recording could damage the camera. Now, the shadow of Treskavac looks like a big dark pyramid

Photos speak for themselves. The phenomenon has its significance because it can be observed only on summer solstice. But an astronomical explanation of the phenomenon is needed, so that it can be successfully viewed through the passage of time.

The archaeoastronomy proclamation, as a new science, coincides with the emergence of the modern geodetic system WGS 84, as well as satellite geospatial positioning. This has made it possible to better understand the intentions of ancient builders and the orientation of their buildings to astronomically important directions that existed at the time of the construction of the prehistoric settlement. The direction of these astronomical events has changed in the meantime.

Therefore, further archaeoastronomical research of Lepenski Vir requires mastering of certain geodetic terminology.

In order to determine the azimuth[1] (A) of the target direction on the horizon, we have also found the geographic coordinates of the target point on the horizon, which is represented by a small notch between the  separated steep rock cliff that resembles a haystack and the northern slope of the highest hill on the eastern horizon, named Treskavac. The point is well defined on the satellite maps by the southern foot of the cliff. We named it the Point D. Here we expected, and then recorded the first Sun rays on the summer solstice down.

Geodetic survey by a teodolite shows that the Point D has the angular hight:

h = 12o 28’ 10’’ (h’ = 12,469444o)

This value has to be corrected for the value of atmospheric refraction [3]:

12,469444o – 0,758o = 11,711444o= h

Now, it is easy to calculate the azimuth (A) of the direction from the Position 1 to the Point D.

The declination of the Sun [2] is equal to the Earth’s axial tilt on the summer solstice day, so the azimuth of the first sunrise, calculated from the position 1 can be verified by the following astronomical formula (with which the research became much more precise and independent of astronomical software):

Now we have all the conditions to compare the results of our measurements and calculations with astronomical knowledge:

formulaA = azimuth
h = angular height of the horizon, corrected for refraction [3] (calculated, it is 11.6013o):
Δ = declination (on summer solstice, it is equal to the Earth’s axial tilt, it is known: 23.4371o)
Φ = geographical latitude of the Position 1, which is also known, is 44.5571o N

Final check: the formula for calculating azimuth if the declination of the Sun is known:

Cos A = sin 23.4371 – (sin 44.557142 x sin 1.,711444) : (cos 44.557142 x cos 11,711444)

Cos A = [0.397742 – (0.701620 x 0.202982)] : (0.712551 x 0.979182)

Cos A = (0.397742 – 0.142416) : 0.697717

Cos A = 0.255326 : 0.697717 = 0.365944


A = 68.534253o      (A = 68o 33’ 3’’)   This is the azimuth of the center of the Sun.  The Sun really appeared in D point, it was observed and photographed.

A simple check of the direction by an angle meter on the satellite map gives the confirmation to this calculation.

10. Позиција 1 - ДThe direction from the Position No. 1 to D point

The azimuth can also be checked using UTM coordinates given in meters by a simple formula. Coordinates of the stand point (position No. 1) are known, and the point D is easy to be distinguished on the satellite images of Google Maps, so its coordinates are known too. The calculation confirms that the azimuth is well established.

The double summer solstice sunrise is now visible from the mentioned position in front of the Museum, in which the Mesolithic settlement is displaced in 1971.

8000 years ago, during the flourishing time of Lepensky Vir culture, the Earth’s axis was slightly more inclined in respect to the ecliptic, so the summer solstice Sun  rose about 1o 20′ closer to the North than it does today, which means that the double summer solstice sunrise could then be observed from a position that is significantly shifted to the South or to a lower elevation compared to the position from which the phenomenon was photographed on June 21. 2017.

It is this direction that leads to the original Mesolithic site. But in order to determine precisely where from the phenomenon could be observed 8000 years ago, we need some additional data.

For this visit to Lepenski Vir, an astro-geodetic survey from three (or at least two) standpoints on the bank of the Danube was planned, just behind the position of the original Mesolithic settlement, which is now submerged.

In order to find these standpoints, we used a map of the relocation[4], which we received by the kindness of the authorities from the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of Serbia, as well as precise geospatial positioning, performed on the Danube bank on May 1, 2017. We carried the equipment, a theodolite with a tripod, solar filter, maps …

But for that task, we were not lucky: the Danube’s water level was too high and there was no place on the bank that the theodolite could be installed on. Astro-geodetic survey should enable accurate archaeoastronomical calculations of what could be seen on the eastern horizon on the summer solstice down from the original Mesolithic settlement 8,000 years ago, with the accuracy of 2-3 angular minutes. When the Danube allows the survey to be done, we will complement this article. Then we will know exactly where on the Treskavac Hill you could see the summer solstice sunrise if you were observing from the most northerly house in the village (the house No. 28), where from the southernmost one (the house No. 65) and from the central (the house No. 54). Then we will know the positions from which the double summer solstice sunrise could be observed 8,000 years ago.

 Belgrade, June 2017.                                                                        Aleksandra Bajic

[1] Azimuth (A) is an angle between the north-south direction and a direction of the targeted point on the horizon, measured from the north in the direction of the clock movement. More precisely, it is geodetic azimuth, which is used in this paper. Astronomers measure azimuth from the south, while geodetic azimuth is usually used in archeoastronomy.

[2] Declinatory circle in the sky denotes the apparent circular path of the observed celestial body. Declination is an angular deviation of the path from the celestial equator and represents one element in the equatorial marking system, which is not dependent on the observation place. Declination of the Sun changes throughout the year, and these changes are registered in solar Ephemeris, issued by individual observatories each year. Some of these are available online. The other element of this system is the angular distance of the observed celestial body measured from the point of the spring equinox and is called rectascensio (right ascension). This second element is not of much significance in this research, because it covers only the position of the summer solstice Sunrise on the eastern horizon.

[3] The value of the average refraction for June is given on the tables,  made by Sampson and associates, based on several measurements in june (Sampson, R. D .; Lozowski, E. P .; Peterson, A. E; Hube, DP; 2003; Variability Of the Astronomical Refraction of the Rising and Setting Sun, Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 115 (pp. 1256-1261).

[4] The site mapping was done in 1967. The map was created by a team of experts from the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of Serbia, led by Ing. Arch. Milka Čanak-Medić and it is oriented towards true (geographical) North. This map had to be put in line with the current state of the Danube River, because the river had taken a lot of materials in the meantime, moving its right bank 4-12m towards the west, which was determined by the geospatial positioning of several points. Based on this positioning, the map of the current Danube bank, as well as the network of coordinates in the WGS 84 system (UTM zone 34N, to which Serbia belongs), which expresses positions in meters, is drawn on the map. On such a map, it is easy to find positions of interest for this research.




(A contribution to the study of religion in Lepenski Vir, the Mesolithic settlement)

The reason for this little research is a sentence of  Dragoslav Srejović, the famous Serbian archeologist. He stated that “…the game of light and shadow in Lepenski Vir occasionally reach proportions of hierophany”.

The word “hierophany” is composed of Greek adjective ἱερός, which means “sacred” and the verb φαίνειν, which means “to appear” or “to come to light”. So, thus translated, the word would be “the manifestation of the sacred” or “the manifestation of holy,” which would suggest a phenomenon that is very impressive, enough to be perceived as a religious experience.

There are a couple of synonyms for hierophany such as theophany, which means “the manifestation of God” and epiphany, with the same meaning.

“The word hierophany recurs frequently in the works of the religious historian Mircea Eliade which he preferred to the more constrictive word theophany (an appearance of a god).

Eliade argues that religion is based on a sharp distinction between the sacred (God, gods, mythical ancestors, etc.) and the profane. According to Eliade, for traditional man, myths describe “breakthroughs of the sacred (or the ‘supernatural’) into the World”—that is, hierophanies.” (quote from Wikipedia)

Different cultures and religions perceived different phenomena as hierophany. Perhaps the most illustrative example is the religion of ancient Egypt, based on the worship of the supreme solar deity Re with his many aspects and manifestations. Believers and priests considered the moment of sunset or sunrise on the horizon to be the most sacred, as it was perceived to be the appearence of their God. But, it was not every (or any) sunset (or sunrise).  It was the sunset (or sunrise) on a specific day in a year (summer or winter solstice), at a precise location, under strictly determined conditions. Shortly before sunset celebratory ritual was performed to prepare participants for the sacred event. It included some specific scenography and some iconography. Many buildings of this culture had exactly the purpose to reinforce the impression of the sacred event:

hijerofanija 1.Summer solstice sunset between two pyramids in Gizeh (the photo belongs to Giulio Magli, the professor of archaeoastronomy from Milan, Italy)

If you move enough to the right or left, you can watch the summer solstice sunset at the top of some of these pyramids:

Hijerofanija 3Summer solstice sunset at the top of a pyramid

The event is very impressive, it is still often “caught” by the cameras of numerous tourists. The ancient Egyptians had even a special symbol for this sacred moment, which they called Akhet.


Egyptologists and archaeoastronomers interpret this symbol as a “horizon”, “The rising Sun on the horizon”, “The rising Sun between two symbolic hills.” Whether it comes between two hills or not, this form of horizon at sunrise (or sunset) is always seen. The refraction of light on the edge of the horizon makes that the Sun apparently “burns” its line, producing a depression on it. Previous photographs are quite illustrative for the phenomenon.

As already mentioned, the sacral architecture of ancient Egypt was deliberately tailored according to this astronomical event. It was monumental architecture, constructed to manifest  the power of Pharaoh (who was considered the son of the Sun) and the power of the clergy.

A significant astronomical knowledge was necessary to make the phenomenon quite predictable for those who possessed the knowledge – the high priests, relating to a particular day of the year (usually winter or summer solstice) and the certain place. The solstice sunrise or sunset direction determined the directions of monumental buildings:

Akhet 2The perfect Akhet in Luxor, photographed by Marie from California

Hijerofanija 3Akhet on a pyramid

Human memory has retained these symbols throughout the centuries in various parts of the world, even very far from Egypt and, behold, the pyramid with the Sun at the top can be seen at the greenback of 1 $:

dolarA pyramid and the Sun (the eye of Horus)

Akhet can be seen even as a pattern on a medieval stećak (a large marble tombstone) from Bosnia and Herzegovina:

Akhet na stećkuA stećak from Rogatica (Bosnia and Hercegovina)

All this may suggest that hierophany had the similar meaning in many cultures: the appearance of the Sun on the horizon, at a precise location, on the exact date of the year, when it will produce exactly the desired (sacred) spectacle, which the ancient Egyptians called Akhet. The day of Akhet was celebrated by the whole community, as the evidence of divine protection, the announcement of the future welfare of the community along with the power of its rulers and its priests.

How far into the past these symbols can be traced ? Was ancient Egypt the place of their origin or, maybe, some other place in some other time?

Please, take a look at another Akhet and another pyramid:

These photos were taken from a small plateau in front of the Lepenski Vir Museum.

OblaciThe cloudy morning of June 20th 2015. (Click to the photos to see it in its full resolution)

SDC13292The clear morning of June 21st 2015

SDC13732The clear morning of June 21st 2016

It can be demonstrated by mathematical and astronomical calculations  that the same phenomenon could have been observed on the summer solstice day from the original Mesolithic settlement, about 8000 years ago. Then, the Earth’s axial tilt was slightly higher than today, so the summer solstice Sun rose about 1° 20′ closer to the North .

We can hardly wait for spring and for few clear days in April or May, to complete the final geodetic and astronomical measurements.  Then, we can finish our calculations and present the exact evidence for the claim. All the results will be presented here, on this site.

Dragoslav Srejović was wright, even though he had no opportunity to watch the summer solstice sunrise on the top of Treskavac hill: the game of light and shadow in Lepenski Vir really reaches the proportions of hierophany. We are the witnesses, as we have seen it with our own eyes. And we hope that our photographs are illustrative enough.

In Serbian, the word “svetlost” (light) sounds almost the same as the word “svetost” (sacred).

We have found that the summer solstice sunrise on the flattened top of the hill named Treskavac (on the opposite side of the Danube, in Romania) resembles the ancient Egyptian symbol named Akhet, which in its meaning connects the distinctive appearance of the rising (or setting) Sun on the horizon with the sanctity of that moment. The next question that must be asked is: did archaeologists find any artifact in Lepenski Vir, (at least partially) reminiscent of the symbol.

In the period between 1965, when the excavation began, and 1967, when the results were published, archaeologists found many stone artifacts set in the geometrical center of each of the buildings, built into the solid concrete-like floor, in order to be immobile. These artifacts were similar to each other (with minor variations in shape) and looked like this:

Akhet u prostoru

The recipients; the photo was taken from the book of Lj. Babovic “The sanctuaries of Lepenski Vir”

Prof Dr Dragoslav Srejović interpreted these artifacts to be some kind of altars. Prof Dr Predrag Ristić called them simply “recipients”. These were all made of stone,  their upper surface was approximately flat, with the discoid recess, 7-15 cm in diameter.

Looking at this picture, one has to ask himself: how to represent Akhet in space? The only solution is exactly like this. Asked whether the similarity is coincidental, the answer is obvious: the human visual perception has not changed during the last 8000 years. People see the same event in the same way as they did 8000 years ago. Natural configuration of Treskavac along with its shadow at sunrise is similar to a slightly flattened monumental pyramid. The edge refraction of Sun light naturally makes an apparent oval “notch” on the horizon, which people had noticed  8000 years ago as they did it at the time of ancient Egypt, as they do it today.

The next question that must be asked is: How did the inhabitants of Lepenski Vir Mesolithic observe the summer solstice Sun? It is already clear that those who were observing it from their houses in the northern part of the settlement, saw its first rays closer to the northern part of the flattened summit of Treskavac, while the observers in the southern part of the settlement were able to see the first sun rays on the southern part of the flattened top. Those from central houses saw the summer solstice sunrise in the middle of the the summit, as the most perfect Akhet. But if they wanted to perform an accurate observation, they needed some additional tools. What kind of tools?

How did the inhabitants of Lepenski Vir observe the Sun?

An observer was sitting in the rear of his house, behind the hearth. From there, he watched Treskavac carefully. The massif of the hill is naturally divided into several segments with a few almost vertical cracks. These cracks were the target landmarks on the horizon, but the observer also had to have an accurate closer landmark (to provide himself an “aiming device”).

The closer landmark could be a thin thread [2], with a weight tied to its end, hanging from the ceiling of the house, so that the weight is just above the recipient (the recipient is the carefully worked stone, with round or oval recess, embedded in the solid, concrete-like floor of the house, so indivertible). The vertical thread above it would represent a closer landmark. The weight could have been one of the weights for driftnets found at the site.

21. Нишан
“aiming device”

The observer was sitting  behind the vertical thread so that it  would cover the point on Treskavac, in which he saw the summer solstice sunrise a year before. (We virtually “picked on” the central vertical crack on the massif, to make the whole process clearer)

(This, of course, does not rule out some other purposes of these artifacts)

At the summer solstice dawn, the observer would see the first Sun ray touching the left side of his thread.  About 20 sec later, the visible surface of the Sun will be divided by the thread into two equal parts. The Sun will be just above the discoid recess of the recipient. He (or she) waits for exactly this sequence of events. When it occurs – it is the solstice day.

It is true that the cracks in the massif of Treskavac are not visible in the moment of sunrise, because they are in deep shade. However, these are visible in the morning twilight, about 15 minutes before sunrise, when the contrasts are not so strong yet. The cracks were used for “fine-tuning of the instrument“, i.e. fitting of the observer’s position relative to the vertical thread with a weight. Thus, he was able to aim accurately the point on the horizon he wanted.

22. Идеализована геометрија
The idealized geometry of a Lepenski Vir house: its geometrical center is exactly in the discoid recess of the recipient

This would mean that the axial bearing of a house did not have to be very accurate. It was enough if the house was built in the approximate direction of summer solstice sunrise (the most of the houses in Lepenski Vir were) and if the entrance was wide enough, which usually was. The observer corrected any small errors in the construction of the house by his position. A new house was “calibrated” during the first clear summer solstice sunrise. Then, the observer, informed and warned by other observers, executed the “fine-tuning” of his position in the observation. The position will be marked and will remain always the same (up to the next calendar reform).

Belgrade, July 2017.                                               Aleksandra Bajic


[1] Lepenski Vir is a Mesolithic settlement in  Iron Gate gorge, at the bank of the Danube, in Serbia. It was discovered in 1965. by Dragoslav Srejović. There is a fine article on Wikipedia about it. The majority of buildings in the settlement face Treskavac, the volcanic hill on the opposite side of the Danube, in Romania.

[2] Mesolithic people knew spinning. We can be sure about that because they knew how to make a fishing net. We can suppose that they made their threads out of dog’s hair (dogs were the only domesticated animals), or of some vegetable fibers.

                                                                                                       Aleksandra Bajić


Vlašići i L.V.

The flourishing of Lepenski Vir the Mesolithic settlement, with its characteristic trapezoidal buildings, is undoubtedly dated between 5900 and 6300 BC i.e. 7900 to 8300 years before present times. In astronomical terms, this is not so much, but certain changes in the sky have nevertheless happened in the meantime. So today, the view of the sky is not exactly the same as it was during this Mesolithic culture. If we want to know which stars were rising on its eastern horizon, we must be aware, above all, of the precession of the Earth’s axis.

The Earth’s axial precession is the astronomical term denoting the phenomenon that this axis is actually rotating around the northern pole of the ecliptic, forming a conical shape in the space, not always pointing to the same star. Today it is directed towards the North Star (Polaris), there is the northern celestial pole today; In the times of ancient Egypt, it was pointed to Thuban, the star in the constellation  Dragon (Draco), while in the times of Lepenski Vir it was pointed to a small starless space of sky, close to the “curve of the tail” of the constellation Dragon (Draco). It was precisely the point of  northern celestial pole 8000 years ago. Of course, the angular distance between any star and northern celestial pole was not the same as it is today. That means that the stars had some other coordinates in the celestial sphere compared to these of today …

Astronomers have established long since that the precession of the Earth’s axis results in the precession of the equinoxes. Thus, today, the point of the spring equinox is located in the constellation Pisces, near the border to Aquarius. For a few hundred years, the shift of the “horoscope era” is expected, the equinox will move from Pisces to Aquarius. One horoscope era is the time for the Sun to emerge in a precisely defined constellation on the ecliptic on the vernal equinox. It lasts about 2160 years. Now, the Sun on the spring equinox  rises in the constellation Pisces; from the end of the old era back to the 2160. BC, it was in Ram (Aries); from 2160 to 4300 BC it was in Bull (Taurus) and between 4300. and 6500 BC in Twins (Gemini), which leads us right to the flourishing time of Lepenski Vir. Then the Sun was rising in the constellation Gemini on the spring equinox and the month of Taurus [1] was the last month of winter. It follows that the constellation Bull (Taurus) was located south of the celestial equator. Since the asterism named Pleiades is a part of the constellation Bull (Taurus), we were interested in where on the eastern horizon of Lepenski Vir its rising could be expected 8000 years ago.

This place, where Pleiades rose 8000 years ago, can not be determined accurately[2] because the precession of the Earth’s axis is not the only orbital parameter of our planet. There is also the apsidal precession, the change in the inclination of the Earth’s axis, and the change in the excentricity of the Earth’s orbit. There is also some change of the angular distance between particular stars, because their place in the sky changes in time very slowly in respect to other stars, which is called the proper motion of stars. But, it can be estimated approximately[2], within the error of a couple degrees, which is not so much.

Slika br. 104

The earth axial precession; the red point marks the North celestial pole 8000 years ago

Since the Precession circle of the North celestial pole is known, it is possible to measure  the angular distance from Pleiades to the North celestial pole on a stellar globe, as it was 8300 years ago (near the “tail” of the Dragon). Thus, the measured angular distance is approximately 103o, which means that Pleiades were 13o south of the celestial equator. That was their declination. Their right ascension can be calculated too, (the angular distance from the vernal equinox point), but it is of no importance in this small experiment, as it is already clear that the morning rise of Pleiades on the eastern horizon was happening at the end of March, a few days after the equinox, indicating that the spring had already arrived and the winter was over.

If we imagine that Lepenski Vir has a flat, “mathematical” horizon, this point can be easily determined using the following formula:

Cos A = sin δ : cos φ           where A = azimuth, δ = declination (δ = – 13o) φ = geographical latitude of the observing place (φ = 44.55613016o N)

When all these elements are put into the formula, the result is as following:

Cos A = – 0.224951 : 0.712563 = – 0.315692
A =  108.402641o

Thus, an approximate azimuth of the direction was obtained, on which Pleiades rose 8300 years ago in Lepenski Vir, assuming a flat horizon. But there’s no flat horizon there. In this section, the natural eastern horizon has an angular height (altitude) between 5 and 7 degrees (measured in March 2015 from the present Danube coast in the background of the Mesolithic settlement, adjusted for the value of atmospheric refraction), which must be taken into account. So the mean value of the angular height of the Horizon is about 6o.


             h = angular height of the horizon (h = 6o – approximately)

Cos A = [- 0.224951 – (0.701607 x 0.104528)] : [0.712563 x 0.994521]

Cos A = (- 0.224951 – 0.073337) : 0.708659

Cos A = –  0.298284 : 0.708658

Cos A = – 0.420913

A = 114.892299o   = about 115o

23. april

The eastern horizon of Lepenski Vir; the calculated point is marked by No. 13

In Lepenski Vir, according to Lj. Babović[3], there was one[4] house (the house No. 35), with the axial azimuth about 117o. The original location of that house was submerged in 1970[5], therefore it was at a lower altitude in respect to today’s Danube bank from which the geodetic survey of the horizon was performed. The eastern horizon, as viewed from it, was slightly higher than 6o , which could explain the difference between the calculated azimuth of Pleiades rising and the axial azimuth of the house No. 35. But, since it was only a single house, unfortunately, it can not be concluded that the appearance of the Pleiades was observed from it. The matching may be coincidental. It would be nice if there was at least one house more, with a similar axial azimuth, but – there was not.

It must be recalled that all these calculations are approximate, with no pretension to a high accuracy. The asterism Pleiades is very striking in the sky, it can not be misidentified and it was noticed very early in the prehistory. That is why it was very interesting to explore the possibility that it was observed by the inhabitants of the Mesolithic Lepenski Vir. But unfortunately, the results of this small experiment are non-conclusive, more simply to say, maybe the asterism was observed, maybe not.

However, it is good to know the approximate rising point of Pleiades on the eastern horizon of Lepenski Vir 8000 years ago.

Belgrade, August 2017.                                                                  Aleksandra Bajić


[1] “The month of Taurus” is a shortened term for the month in a year during which the Sun rises in that particular constellation. Then, the constellation is not visible in the night sky as it travels along with the Sun, during the daylight.

[2] Actually it can be calculated accurately but such a task demands some very complex astronomical calculations. So the effort would be to big in respect to the significance of this small experiment.

[3] Babović, Ljubinka,  Svetilišta Lepenskog Vira, mesto, položaj i funkcija (Babovic, Lj. The sanctuaries of Lepenski Vir, the place, the orientation and the function)

[4] Most of the houses were oriented towards the volcanic hill named Treskavac, where the Sun rose on the summer solstice.

[5] The original place of the Mesolitic settlement was submerged in 1970. by the Danube after the construction of the dam in the Iron Gate Gorge. All of its houses were relocated to a new position at the higher elevation, about 70m to the North-west. Now, it is the place of Lepenski Vir Museum.



Janus 1


Ovid’s poem Fasti
RedShift 7, the astronomical software


According to Ovid, in ancient times, Saturn came to Latio by his boat. Janus welcomed him and they ruled together, and that time is referred to as “the golden age”. Gold is always associated with the Sun in myths and Saturn is the divine personification of the eponymous planet. Janus, as we know, has no equivalent in the sky, but is related to the calendar.

January is the month that belongs to Janus. In January, 2000 years ago, the Sun was located in the constellation Capricornus. Capricornus is, according to extensive Astrological literature, Saturn’s “house”.

Is it possible that the joint rule of both Janus and Saturn actually signifies the conjunction of the Sun and Saturn in the constellation Capricorn (Capricorn), in the month of Janus?

To test this idea, we used the “Sky diary” option of astronomical software Red Shift 7. We looked for the conjunction of the Sun and Saturn in January in the time between 47. BC i 17. AD when Ovid lived. The result was (to put it mildly) surprising. Such conjunctions occurred as follows:

1st    January 12. BC
13th  January   11. BC
26th  January   10. BC

Ovid testifies in his poem about the common rule of Janus and Saturn just as at  January 1st. Is this the sacred secret? Is this the cause for the testimony about  the common rule of Janus and Saturn? Did Ovid begin to write the poem in January 1st, 12 BCE in his age of 35? Is it possible that other data from the poem are similarly precise and astronomically conditioned?

The last verses of the poem (about January 1st) speak about the consecration of the temples of Jupiter and Aesculapius on the island in the Tiber. The road to the island leads from the field of Mars to a bridge built at the end of the old era, more than 2000 years ago. It was named Fabricius. The Romans knew it as “The bridge of four heads,” because of the two statues of four headed Janus (Janus quadrifrons) on its fence. From the Mars’ field, the bridge leads to the eastern side of the island, where the temples of Jupiter and Aesculapius were situated, “the mighty grandfather and grandson together …” We would like to know why the bridge was guarded JUST by four headed Janus (Janus Quadrifrons).Janus 2

The statue of Janus Quadrifrons on the Fabricius bridge. Any dilemma about the identity of four headed Janus is dismissed by St. Augustin, the christian writer from the 4th century AD. (De Civitate Dei, VIII, 7). The author clearly describes Janus Quadrifrons (Janus with four faces, connecting him with the four cardinal directions)

Janus 5The red arrow points to Janus Quadrifrons

Most FabricioThe plan of the island in the Tiber river

We wanted to see if the direction of the bridge Fabricius can tell why it was guarded JUST by four headed Janus. According to this plan, the direction of the bridge is at the azimuth of approximately 56o.

According to astronomical software, Red Shift 7, the summer solstice sunrise in Rome in 6.BC happened at the azimuth of 56o 00’ 44’’ (in terms of the flat horizon, adjusted for the refraction).

We can’t do better than this, because we do not know exactly whether the horizon is really flat (“mathematical”), as we do not have any opportunity for a terrain study. But, given that this bridge leads from the Mars’ field (so we can assume that the field is plain) to the island in the Tiber, so that is the basis for assuming the flat horizon. This little experiment reinforces a direct connection of Janus with summer solstice. His connection with equinoxes is already established by Ovid’s statement that Janus Bifrons was always oriented in East and West direction. Janus’ connection with winter solstice is established as well in the same source, by the statement that he rules over the beginning of each year.

At the end, we have to explain our interest in Janus. He has his two faces, sometimes even four, which makes him similar to Slavic God Svetovid (Swantewit). Slavic mythology is poorly explored. Maybe the comparative mythology could offer some answers.

According to the myth, Janus is the guardian of Celestial gate. What the Celestial gate could be?

Belgrade, December 2016.                                                 Aleksandra Bajić


Celestial Gate

In Serbia, there is a belief that on the Feast of Epiphany the Celestial gate (or the door of Heaven) is wide open, and that the soul of the person who died that day, feels free to go to Paradise. In some regions, the same belief refers to the period from Christmas to Epiphany. This belief is not based either on the Old or the New Testament, because such a thing isn’t written there. Simply, it is an element of Serbian folk religion probably the rest of some beliefs, older than Christianity, whose origin goes back to deep antiquity. The depths of that antiquity can be examined only partially:

The Romans had their own deity, Janus, who was believed to guard the gate of Heaven. This is evidenced by the key in his left hand, which unlocks and locks the gate. He holds a stick In his right hand, symbolizing the axis of the sky, the hinge around which the door turns. His temples were always facing east and west, by which the god was associated with equinoxes, both spring and autumn. The beginning of a year also belongs to him, therefore winter solstice what we have clear information about, left by the Roman poet Ovid, in his book named Fasti. The connection of this deity with the summer solstice is difficult to demonstrate, but nevertheless Janus was mentioned by Ovid in his song of  June, the month of the summer solstice.

It is possible that beliefs of Balkan Slavs concerning Heavenly door, have their origin in the former Roman religion, but it is not very likely. For Balkan Slavs settled here, according to the understanding of history, in the 6th century AD. At that time Romans (or romanized Balkan natives), whom they may be able to meet here, were largely Christianized. Most correspond to the truth is that they found a mass of Christian sects, the new religion was crystallizing of. If this is so, it is possible that their belief concerning Heavenly door goes to even deeper antiquity.

Beliefs about the existence of some door or a gate, which separate worlds, can be dated even earlier, at the time of Babylon. Sumerian goddess Inanna (to Babylonians known as Ishtar), in order to visit her sister Erekshigal, the queen of the world of the dead, came to a certain door, as evidenced by these lyrics of the poem “Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld”, written on clay tablets.

Over door and bolt, dust has gathered.
Ishtar on arriving at the gate of the land of no return,
To the gatekeeper thus addressed herself:
“Gatekeeper, ho, open thy gate!
Open thy gate that I may enter!
If thou openest not the gate to let me enter,
I will break the door, I will wrench the lock,
I will smash the door-posts, I will force the doors.
I will bring up the dead to eat the living.
And the dead will outnumber the living.”

Ishtar (Inanna) is the divine personification of the planet Venus, whose appearance and disappearance was monitored carefully by ancient Babylonians. The results of their observations were recorded, and the data stored in the text, known as Enuma Anu Enlil (“When there were Anu and Enlil”). More specifically, the Tablet no. 61 of the text relates to the results of observations of the planet Venus. The oldest known copy dates from the 7th century BC, but there is some clear evidence that the text originated around 1200 to 1300 BC. Planet Venus can be definitely seen in the sky only and nowhere else. So, where could have been the door Ishtar could have to pass through? Where would be the door, if not in heaven?

We have an idea what could be understood as the gate of Heaven:

Celestial gate could easily be imagined as a constellation, known to astronomers today (as well as to those old-Greek) as Gemini (Twins). The emergence of this constellation in the sky is in close conjunction with solstices, and its shape is reminiscent of a grand gate:


At the summer solstice, during the last 2000 years BC, the Sun rose in the constellation Cancer (Cancer). This practically means that it left the constellation Gemini (Twins) in that day and that this constellation appeared in the eastern horizon just before sunrise for the first time, as astronomers say, it was its heliacal rising. About a month before its heliacal rising, the Twins were not visible in the night sky, as the constellation was traveling there during the daylight, along with the Sun. Before that, it was seen for the last time that year on the West, short time after the sunset (its evening setting). After that moment, the constellation would set. Knowing that Venus can’t be away from the Sun for more then 40° and that it was visible either as Morning star or Evening star, that was the moment for Evening star to pass the celestial gate on the West. (According to RedShift, the astronomical software, such a situation happened on April 30th 902BC in 19:55)

On the winter solstice, the Sun was in the opposition to the constellation Gemini (Twins), meaning that it was in the West while the Sun was in the East. At the time of Ovid, on December 25th 16 BC, Gemini could be seen in the West, in 5 h 50 min AM, at dawn, about two hours before sunrise, according to Red Shift 7, the astronomical software. The Constellation looked like a starry door on the western horizon. The West, as a rule, was closely tied to the world of the dead in ancient religions..

The picture is taken from  Red Shift 7, the astronomical software. The sky is as it could be seen from Balkans, on the winter solstice 16 BC, at dawn. The zero line of the horizon is marked green  (click on the image to view its full size), and Jupiter is on his way through the Celestial gate

The picture shows the shape of the constellation (Gemini) on the western horizon, clearly resembling a door or a gate.

It took 25 days from the winter solstice to wait for the morning (cosmic) setting of the constellation Gemini, therefore, quite correct at the time of the Epiphany (January 19).

If we want  now to trace the assumption that the gate of Heaven was visualized as the constellation Gemini, we would have to start the analysis of the myth about these divine twins, after which the constellation got its name.

Castor and Pollux, as visualized in“Urania’s mirror”, the atlas, published in 1824 in London

According to Greek myth, Castor and Polydeuces were twin sons of Leda, but they did not have same fathers: Polydeuces was the son of Zeus, who approached Leda in the form of a swan, while Castor was the son of Tindareus, the mortal husband of Leda. Some sources say they hatched from an egg (with respect to Zeus’s figure of a swan), along with their twin sisters, Helen (the one for which the Trojan War would break later) and Clytemnestra. Common life and exploits of Castor and Polydeuces will suddenly be interrupted by the death of Castor in the conflict with another pair of twins (Idaus an Linkeus) [1]. According to the myth, Polydeuces entreated his father Zeus to share his immortality with his brother, so they both found their place in the sky as the constellation Gemini. A similar myth exists in Roman mythology, with a small amendment: the immortal brother is called Pollux, not Polydeuces, as named by Greeks.

Castor and Pollux were the protectors of passengers and sailors. They were invoked in order to give favorable winds for the trip, which suggests a certain role of Twins (or the role of their constellation) in navigation. They were mentioned in written sources for the first time by Homer. In the Iliad, they were described as mortals, while in the Odyssey “in honor, the same as gods.”

In ancient Babylon, the constellation of Twins was named MAŠ.TAB.BAR. (GAL.GAL) “The great Twins” or MASS / tū’āmū Rabutu with the same meaning. It is believed that the name can be traced back to Bronze Age.

The attitude of official science, that Babylonian knowledge became available to Greeks after the conquest of Alexander the Great, is somewhat conservative: the same meaning of the constellation Gemini name, given both by Greeks and Babylonians, suggests that the connection should come before Homer, therefore, before the 7th century BC. Already, Pythagoras of Samos, who lived and worked in the 6th century BC, is known to have traveled to the Middle East and to have brought certain astronomical knowledge from both Babylon and Egypt. The first written evidence of the observation of the constellation Gemini was left by Aristotle, in his work Metheorologica. The author observed the planet Jupiter personally, surrounded by the stars of Gemini, when the the planet caused the occultation of the brightest star in the constellation, the star, which is still called Pollux. Today Archaeoastronomic analysis[2] determined that something like this could be seen on December 5th 337 BC, that is just in the year when Alexander became the ruler of Macedonia, therefore before his conquest of the eastern countries.

Immediately we can notice that neither the Greek nor Roman etiological myth about the origin of this constellation doesn’t mention any door. The Babylonian name of the constellation – as well. But the Roman god Janus, with his two heads, also with the title of Geminus (Twin), in addition to his role of the official mythical guardian of the gate of heaven, warns that it does not have to be that way, i.e. that twins do have something to do with the Heavenly gates. The confirmation of this assumption is given by Prof A. Audin [3],  the French archaeologist and the director of the archaeological museum in Lyon. The author considered that the two-headed Janus (Geminus) originates from two pillars in front of Babylonian temples, used to determinate the dates of winter and summer solstices.

What these pillars (or posts) had to do with the Heavenly door?

The basic elements that hold each door are two (twin) pillars, (doorposts) that support the lintel, a beam connecting them at the top. Lintel does not matter in the astronomical observations, it does not have to exist, but it is useful because it prevents pillars (doorposts) to lean.

If you wish to have your own ‘solar’ door, you could turn them exactly to the east and then you find a standing point in your house, from which you will observe the Sun, as it appears by the left post on the summer solstice, on the equinoxes – in the middle of the doorstep and by the right post on the winter solstice. Thus these twin doorposts are to become an astronomical tool, by which you can make a calendar, i.e. your personal Celestial door (or gate).

In the folk religion of Serbs, the door, almost to the present day had its iconic character. Numerous rituals were performed at the doorstep, believed to be the threshold of ancestors. But, doorposts are not without significance either, as evidenced by the poem from the collection of Vuk Karadzic:

Here comes the Christmas Boy,
he carries a bundle of gold
to gild both the door
and the two doorposts.

In this koledarian – Christmas song, it is not entirely clear whether  the Christmas Boy was to gild some earthly or some heavenly door, but it is clear that he will gild the door and the doorposts as well. The lintel and the door-step are not mentioned. Koledarian poems are ceremonial, closely linked with the religious calendar. They are sung few days before and after the winter solstice.

The following verses from a folk poem from Croatia [4] describe a peculiar court, belonging to a nobleman:

…His court is round and golden,
on a circle and on the stone pillars (posts),
its door turning around with the Sun
and its windows with the shining Moon…

This door on the circular court, which is “turning around with the Sun”, brings the association on those circular spaces, some of which can be dated as early as in the Neolithic period (such as the famous circle at Goseck in Germany, Stonehenge in Britain and a few other similar circles), which were deliberately built for observation of the Sun. Their entrances are set in line with the points of winter solstice on the horizon. Of course, the “gates” of Goseck circle were directed towards the winter solstice sunrise and sunset, and certainly had their “twin doorposts” in the form of two (twin) oak posts on their edges. And not only that: Goseck circle has two (twin) gates, one for the winter solstice sunrise and the other to “look” towards the winter solstice sunset. The circle was built about 7000 years ago, i.e. about 5000 BC.

However, we were able to conclude that the gate (or the door) of Heaven was a symbol, which can be defined through the twin doorposts (pillars that hold the door), and these doorposts may have been symbolically shown in the sky as the constellation Gemini (Gemini), the heliacal rising of which happened on the summer solstice during the last two millennia BC. But the door of heaven can also symbolize a certain astronomical tool, through which certain astronomical phenomena were observed.

Thus, the constellation Gemini could symbolize the gates (doors) of heaven, especially those related to the Sun, the Moon and planets. But people were watching other objects in the sky too, making some “twin pillars” (with or without lintels), set in the direction of the observed celestial phenomena. An unusual formation built on the Greek island of Naxos could be quite illustrative for what we want to point out. It is  known as:

Portara from Naxos
(Although, there is no reliable evidence so far whether this monumental gate of Heaven had an astronomical purpose)

naxos_gateDoor from Naxos (Portara);
We downloaded the image from the Internet, along with its description: it is “the door leading nowhere”

Portara is 8m tall and 4,6m tight. It is believed to be built by Ligdamis, the ruler of Naxos, about 530 BC. There is no consensus among the scientists whether it was built as the entrance to the temple (which was never completed) dedicated to Apollo, or it was created in the honor of Dionysus. Those who feel that the gate (or the door) was built for the first one (Apollo), justify their opinion by the orientation of the door, supposedly facing the island of Delos, Apollo’s place of birth. The others, have argued that Naxos was dedicated to Dionysus, and that, according to the myth, the God met Ariadne there, Minos’s daughter, just left by Theseus. Dionysos fell in love with her and persuaded her to marry him. As a wedding gift, Aphrodite gave Ariadne a golden crown adorned with precious jewels  (the crown was made by Hephaestus). Marrying Dionysus, his bride became a divine being herself, and her crown was ascended into heaven, as the constellation Northern Crown or Corona Borealis. The Greeks named this constellation Cretan Crown, according to the island of Ariadne’s origin.

It is quite possible that archaeoastronomy can resolve this dilemma. It is necessary to see the direction  targeted by the gate (Portara) from Naxos. It would be best if we could go there to perform a geodetic survey by a theodolite and to measure the angle of the targeting direction in respect to the North, but it can be roughly measured on the satellite maps of Google Earth. The geographical coordinates of Portara are:  37.110325 N   25.372320 E

portara-satThe aiming direction of Portara

It is easy to distinguish the Portara’s lintel on the satellite map, which defines the horizontal direction, set at the right angle (90°) in respect to the direction of the door. Thus, the measured direction of the door is minus 39,5o to the North, at the azm. [5]. 320o to 321o. The error does not exceed one degree. (We tried not to be deceived by the foundations of the medieval basilica, which was built there much later, even much later torn down. So we were oriented exclusively by the lintel of Portara)

Now we need to see the direction to Delos, the island, where, according to the myth, Apollo was born.

naksos-delos-2The geographical relationship of Delos and Naxos (Google Earth’s map)

It is so obvious that the direction to  Delos as seen from Naxos is to close to the North. So, there is no need to measure its azimuth. The map clearly excludes the assumption that Portara from Naxos was built to face Delos, and therefore dedicated to Apollo. At the same time, Portara wasn’t set at the direction suitable to observe either the summer solstice sunset (azm. about 300o), or any other solar direction, so it can’t  be connected with Apollo, the solar deity .

And now, what was observed from the Celestial gate (Portara) from Naxos?

The answer lies directly in front of you, given by Red Shift, the astronomical software, showing the direction of Corona Borealis’ (Northern crown) setting, on September 26th 2,532 years ago, as seen from Naxos.

coronaThe setting of Corona Borealis, on September 26, 516 BC, viewed from Naxos (click on the image to view its full size)

The constellation is indicated by a black circle. The star epsilon Coronae Borealis (CrB ε), set on September 21st 516. BC, viewed from Naxos, at the azm. 319o 12′ 41”, and  the star Gamma Coronae Borealis (γCrB, which is the center of the constellation) set at the azm. 320o 29′ 54’’. We have already found that the Portara from Naxos “looks” to the approximate direction at the azm. 320o, just enough for the entire set of the constellation to be observed through the Celestial gate. Knowing that Dionysus was celebrated at night, the evening (heliacal) setting of Corona Borealis could mark an important sacred event in Naxos, dedicated to Dionysus and Ariadne.

The conclusion is obvious: the island of Naxos belonged to Dionysus. He was the deity worshiped there. Portara (the Celestial gate) was built to face the setting of Corona Borealis symbolizing the crown, which his divine wife, Ariadne, received as a wedding gift. Ligdamis, the ruler of the island in 530 BC, raised the Portara (the Celestial gate) in the honor of Dionysus and Ariadne, not in the honor of Apollo.

portara-pogledView of the sea through Portara

In Belgrade, September  2016.                                           Aleksandra Bajic


[1] The conflict arose because both pairs of twins wanted to marry Foebe and Hilaire, both the names of their chosen brides suggest a connection with the Moon.

[2] Cohen, Sheldon M .; Burke, Paul (1990). “New Evidence for the Dating of Aristotle Meteorologica 1-3”. Classical Philology. 85 (2): 126-129.

[3] A. Audin, A., (1956) “Dianus BIFRONS ou les deux stations solaires, piliers jumeaux et portiques solsticiaux” Revue de géographie de Lyon 31/3, pp. 191-198.

[4] Hrvatske narodne pjesme, Matica hrvatska, pesma Marko Kraljević ukida svadbarinu, Zagreb, 1897th

[5] Azm. is azimuth, a geodetic term which means the angular distance of certain direction in respect to the direction of North.




Food for thought

Perun or Perkunas?

The reason for this mindset is a master thesis (work for the master’s degree) from University of Thessaloniki, submitted for assessment in 2015. It was written by Antonios Sakellariou, entitled The Cult of Thracian Hero. A Study of Religious Syncretism with Deities and Heroes in the Western Black Sea Region.  Prof Dr Manolis Manoledakis was the mentor.

This paper concerns the inscriptions on votive reliefs, depicting Thracian horseman. These reliefs are typically located in Thracian territories, therefore, from Istria to Histria near the Black Sea. They are dated between the second century BC and the fourth century AD. The reliefs were found usually in small sanctuaries or in the countryside, in places that had a religious character, often nearby some water sources. Most often, the reliefs depict a horseman on the horseback, with a fluttering mantle, in front of an altar stone, beside which is a tree wrapped by a snake. Some other details can be present, but this is the most usual arrangement of figures. The reliefs are believed to have been created in many workshops, so to say a mass production, although such workshops have not been identified.

Like all votive gifts, these reliefs were pledged to sanctuaries  when the person who wanted to give the offering was in some kind of danger. Most often (as it is the case even today) votive gifts were dedicated in case of illness, so many inscriptions were related to Apollo, Aesculapius and Hygieia. Votive gifts were offered in the times of war invoking some war deity; going on a trip across the sea demanded the invocation of Dioskouroi, or some other patron-deity of travelers and seamen; Some reliefs were dedicated to the deceased, in which case some chthonic deity of world of the dead was invoked.

The older reliefs have inscriptions in Greek language, the later ones in Latin, because these two languages had the character of Lingua Franca, the language of communication between members of different nations and tribes in these areas. It is logical that the one who carved the inscription was the craftsmen that made the relief and not the one who was to give the votive gift, but the first one had to be sure to take into account the wishes of the customer.

Antonios Sekellariou, the author, describes a relief with a very special inscription by the end of his text. That particular votive relief was found in Petrabana in today’s Romania, near Galata and Tomis (today Constanta) on the Black Sea.

perkoneiThe relief from Petrabana

The inscription is easy to read:

Hero Perkonei Menandros Amintoros,

Ἥρωεη Περκωνεη Μένανδρος Ἀμύντωρος”

The inscription is very clear and well preserved. It makes no doubt as how to read it. The relief was dated by its archaeological context to the 2 or 1st century BC. It is 47cm tall, 38cm wide and the thickness of the slab is 7.5cm. It is a depiction of a rider, turned to the right, with a fluttering cloak. The rider is in front of an altar. A female, probably a goddess is by the altar. Behind her, there is a tree with a crawling snake. The right arm of the horseman is erected as a sign of respect and so is the right arm of the female person.

The insctiption on this votive relief can be the first known note mentioning Perkunas, the Baltic deity or Perun, the Slavic god. The names of these deities are associated with proto-indoeuropean word  perkwunos, denoting the thunder,  derived from perkwos, meaning oak. Both  Perkunas and Perun are deities with the same competencies: they are both thunderers, the oaks were dedicated to them. These deities were reported about in many sources, but much later in respect to this votive relief.

The first two words of the inscription are Ἥρωεη Περκωνεη – Hero Perkonei

The next name on the inscription is Μενανδρος. The name is derived from the old-Greek word “menos Aner / Andros (μένος ἀνὴρ / ἀνδρός) Mènandros (Μένανδρος)”, which means “strong” (man), or “powerful” (man).

The last name on the inscription is Amyntor (Ἀμύντωρ). In old Greek language it means “one who defends” or “defender”.

Thus the inscription would read: Hero Perkonei, the powerful defender

To our knowledge, there is no Greek name Perkonei and the word has no meaning in the old-Greek language. It is unknown whether the name had some significance for the Thracians or Dacians. But for the Balts and Slavs it certainly had a very distinctive meaning.

If this assumption is correct, then the relief was a votive gift of a person probably in danger of aggression, forced to invoke the appropriate (his own) deity Perkunas or Perun – the thunderer, to punish the aggressors. Although neither the Balts nor the Slavs were mentioned in the historical records as early as the second century BC, their ancestors had to be somewhere worshiping their deities.

And who is this?

There is another unusual relief of the Thracian horseman, now kept in the Museum in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. It was found in the vicinity of the city. Its depiction is typical by almost all carved motifs, except for one feature; The Horseman has three heads.

Three-headed rider with axe. Marble plate (1st CE), from Plovdiv.

Three-headed rider with axe. Marble plate (1st CE), from Plovdiv.

This relief was referred long time ago, by Otto Weinreich (1886-1972), classical philologist, professor at the University of Heidelberg and the depiction was compared with the Lycian deity Trikasbos. At the bottom of the relief, there is an inscription in Greek language, which can be read only partially:

Syngenia (συνγενίς) which means “unity of divinity” or “kinship by blood”

Greek myths describe a single deity that appears like this, in a tripartite form, but this is a female deity, Hecate. At the same time, it is considered that even Hecate was not originally a Greek deity, but is there as a result of religious syncretism. It is believed that the Greeks took it from the Middle East. It is referred that the ancient Egyptian goddess Heqet could have been her prototype, but for now there is no evidence for such a connection. At the same time, the Egyptian Heqet does not have the attribute of triplicity.

The deity depicted on this relief is obviously a male. In Europe, a quite small number of triple deities has been referred: Norse Eda, both prose and poetic one,  offer triple Odin, described as a unity of three gods; Haar (“The High one”), Jafnhaar (“As High one”) and TRIDi (“The Third”). A few visual representations of the deity with three faces have been preserved in Denmark. Lugus, the Celtic deity  was also depicted with three heads in some cases. Historical sources clearly mentioned Triglav, the Slavic God, whose name means “three heads”, as the supreme deity in Volyn and Sczieszyn (today Poland).

We have no knowledge that there was either a Thracian divinity with the attribute of triplicity and we do not know if anyone has made a comparative study of triple deities in European mythology. Theoretically, at least one celestial deity, the most important one, the solar deity, could have the attribute of triplicity. There is some foundation in nature for such a presumption, in the atmospheric phenomenon named Parahelia or Parhelia, when the Sun is seen as triple. It occurs when sun-rays  are reflected by the ice crystals in the the upper layers of the atmosphere.

sun-dogsThe photo was taken on 5 December 2013 in Minnesota, uploaded from the Internet. In the Anglo-Saxon literature, this phenomenon is called “Sun dogs”. Norse Odin is described in the company of two wolves or dogs (the mythical character of wolves and dogs is the same). Norse Odin also has the attribute of Triplicity

In Belgrade, October  2016