THE STONES OF THE GIANTS: THE ASTRONOMICAL GUIDELINES OF THE MEGALITHS OF MONTALBANO ELICONA (ITALY)
by Ignazio Burgio.
The mysterious rock formations that show themselves in all their impressiveness near the town of Montalbano Elicona (Messina, Italy), have been interpreted by someone as a mere work of nature, by others as the work of neolithic men in Sicily in ancient times. So the charming shapes of the Virgin in prayer, of the male face and of the Eagle are considered whether as a bizarre freak of nature, or as the work of a mysterious civilization that left similar examples not only in Italy but worldwide. Curiously, however, the most striking megaliths of this "Italian Stonehenge," as defined by someone, have clear guidelines to the equinoxes and the solstices ...
When few years ago were discovered the megaliths of the Argimusco, a place not far from Montalbano Elicona, near Messina, the world of scholars was divided between those which assigned a completely natural and random origin to the shape and arrangement of rock formations, and those that connect them, in whole or in part, to the action of the neolithic man.. The site was made equal to the great megalithic structures of northern Europe, such as Stonehenge, Carnac, Skara Brae, etc.. while there were also those that attributed the origin of it to the mythical people of giants, men of high stature mentioned in many ancient sources. Looking them, however, simply under the terms of the structure and astronomical phenomena, we have to recognize that the megaliths of Argimusco concealed functions similar to those of the great stone calendars of northern Europe, and thus a very ancient and unknown history.
First, the site looks inserted into a real "sacred space" that goes far beyond the main group of stones. It's situated on a plateau at 1200 m. sea level whose exact coordinates are 37 ° 59 'N, 15 ° 2' E. Just to the south - between two low hills - stands out the top part of the crater of Etna. In the direction of the other three cardinal points many mountain peaks or hills seem to "frame" the orientation of the site deliberately.
From the geological point of view, the rocks are calcareous conglomerates, so easily subjected, for the low hardness of the stone, whether to the erosion of the weather
(which is certainly no denying the action over the past millennia), or in theory to human work. Some of them have characteristic and extremely impressive shapes. In the main megalithic group, with its circular shape, we notice two menhirs, one more slender and slim, about twenty meters high, and the other lower and massive, about more than ten meters high. Commonly they are designated as "male and female sexual symbols”. Shortly more far to the right (towards the north-east) three large massive rock rise, a thirty meters or more high. The walls of two of them, facing each other, show a profile of anthropomorphic type, a male, and another, much more distinguished, feminine, with her hands clasped in prayer (and therefore commonly named as “the Prayer”). Another megalith with well distinct and characteristic shape is finally formed by a group of overlapping stones (from nature or ancient men ?) to form the shape of an eagle or other bird of prey, with wings half-explained and the head facing south.
All over the world we meet large anthropomorphic faces that look not to be created
by nature but by the work of unknown people in ancient times, with methods and purposes still unknown to us. In the same Sicily near Petralia, in the province of Palermo, we can see other figures, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic, on the walls of a canyon and studied by Russian researcher Emilia Sakharova. The state of intense erosion by weathering over time if testify on the one hand the distant antiquity of these sculptures - perhaps dating back ten thousand years ago - make it problematic unambiguous identification as work of the man and not of the nature.
If there is no doubt that in Montalbano Elicona groups of larger stones, judging by their size, are certainly the work of nature, many indications suggest that the menhirs, the order of some smaller stones, and the curious shapes of the Prayer and of the Eagle are vice versa of human origin.
If we take a compass discover that both the megalith in the shape of rapacious and the highest menhirs are aligned exactly along the east-west line. It means that placing ourselves with our back to the megalith highest and watching the Eagle we can see the sun rise just behind the rock bird in the days of the equinoxes (Spring and Autumn). Similarly, placing ourselves with our back in front of the rapacious and standing toward the menhir we can see the sun go down exactly in the same days to west. Between the two rocks there is also a curious saddle-shaped low stone, closer to the standing stone that the Eagle, which is also it perfectly in line: it "should" (we use the conditional
because for the moment is the result of calculations rather than direct observations) represent the culmination of the shadow of the menhir at sunset, always in the same equinoctial dates.
This kind of "stone-witness" in the center of the circle of menhir and megaliths with "faces", could turn out a vantage point from which detect other significant astronomical phenomena. For example toward south-west a boulder near the pair of standing stones could be there in a non-random order to signal the sunset in the winter solstice, while in the other side the sun rises in the summer solstice between the two profiles of the goddess in prayer and the male profile, perhaps an ancient evidence of a heavenly religion linked to fertility. It's still need to make other measurements and observations, in order to understand if there are other stones oriented to other significant astronomical phenomena such as lunar phases, or positions of some special stars in the sky.
In this regard we can bring a curious observation that could open the way for further research. In the sky map of our traditional constellations the female imagine of the Virgin is immediately to the left of the male group of Bootes (or Arcade, the mythological guardian of oxen, son of Zeus and the nymph Callisto), while in his right there is a bird. This however is not the Eagle but the Raven. To the left of Boote there is also the constellation of the Snake.
In the megaliths of Montalbano, in short, we could find a classical archaeological and astronomical situation, as tradition of ancient peoples, that is the representation on earth of constellations or star groups with important meaning for those people. The best known example is obviously represented by the Egyptian site of Giza, where according to research by Robert Bauval the three main pyramids represent the three stars of Orion's belt and the statue of the Sphinx the corresponding constellation of the Leo. But less known is the interpretation that the German scholar Michael Rappenglueck gave ten years ago of one of the most enigmatic paintings of prehistoric man in the cave of Lascaux in France, where are depict a man with a bird-shape stick, and several animals: a buffalo, a woolly rhinoceros (now extinct) and an horse.
Rolling back the sky using the computer at the time of origin of the representations (15,000 BC), Rappenglueck realized that the individual images were real constellations of a remote age in which the pole star was not our Polaris of the Ursa Minor, but - due to the precession of the equinoxes - the star Delta in the constellation of Cygnus. Around it, the human figure, the buffalo, the rhinoceros and the horse overlapped with groups of stars that identified the different seasons of the year.
In the case of megaliths of Argimusco, the Eagle, the woman in prayer, the male profile in front of it and the highest standing stone could represent similar constellations of the sky of a far past, probably in the dawn of a summer solstice, the only significant astronomical event in which occur above the horizon all four constellations of the Crow-Eagle, the couple Virgin-prayer, man-Boote and the
Snake-menhirs (sunset in fact involve other groups of stars on the opposite side of the sky, as dawn of the equinox hide the Raven). According to the astronomical program "Stellarium" this configuration would occur only around 10,000 B. C., an era in which the sun rose during the summer solstice, at the north-east in the constellation of Virgin. During this time the constellation of Crow was just to the east, half above the horizon, just behind the megalith of "Eagle", while in the left-west of the Virgin-Praying appeared the constellations of Bootes and Snake.
But this interpretation - in truth - poses more than a problem. It can be also true that in very ancient age men already grouped stars in constellations, as it seems to demonstrate the interpretation of the Lascaux Cave: but it is unlikely that the people of the Neolithic period saw the same sky in our constellations, which date back probably to the period of the great civilizations in the Middle East (IV millennium B.C.). Moreover the proposed date is much older than the beginning of the first megalithic constructions that in the present state of archeology go back to the seventh millennium B. C. and not before: i. e. to the submerged megaliths of Atlit-Yam and to the stone circles of Nabta Playa, in the Egyptian desert. Even though recently the Archaeology has more backdated the start of construction of sites and religious monuments, after the discovery in Gobekli Tepe, Turkey, of remains of stone buildings dating back to 10000-9500 B. C.
The dating of the megaliths of Montalbano Elicona looks very difficult: no ancient source mentions them, and at present has not been unearthed from the underground any remain (because in truth, any official digging is not done yet, nor any serious study). Nearby are the remains of "dolmen” belonging to a necropolis (which could be very next to the age of megaliths) unfortunately almost completely dismantled by the shepherds in the past centuries in order to draw building materials. The "cubburi" finally, typical stone buildings nearby, similar in style to the nuragic architecture of the "Sesi" in Pantelleria isle, belong to an age much younger, although not yet well defined because the usual shortage of serious archaeological studies.
However supposing that the megaliths of Montalbano Elicona are so old, it seems more likely that the function of this "Stonehenge of Sicily" as someone has defined it, was exclusively religious linked to astronomical and seasonal cults of death and rebirth (of nature and life), continuing in historic times and later in the Christian era, until to our days.
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Giulio Magli, Misteri e scoperte dell'archeoastronomia
, Newton Compton editori, Rome 2006.
Maria Longhena, Widmer Berni, La Genesi nella pietra
, in: Fenix n. 9, july 2009, X Publishing ed. Rome.
Note. The photos were made by the author, and are freely usable by anyone.