The world's oldest known solar observatory is not located in Egypt, China, or South America. It is in Germany.
The remains of the ancient Goseck Circle, located approximately 35 miles west of the German city of Leipzig and known as the German Stonehenge, were discovered in a 1999 aerial survey photograph. Unlike England's famous Stonehenge (built 2,000+ years later and, interestingly, located at virtually identical latitude), this concentric circle monument contains no stone – it is made entirely of wood and was badly eroded when excavation began in 2002. Radiocarbon dating has placed construction of the site close to 4,900 B.C. Archaeologists believe it was in use for two or three centuries and then abandoned for reasons unknown.
The Goseck Circle is the largest and best preserved of nearly 150 Neolithic circular ditched enclosures found throughout Central Europe, most of which feature accurate astrological alignments. The monument’s southwest and southeast entrances face, respectively, the direction of the sunset and sunrise around the date of the winter solstice. Two smaller breaks in the circular wall match similar directions for the summer solstice.
The Goseck Circle was not merely astrological – it served more gruesome purposes as well. Hacked, dismembered skeletal remains of animals and people (including many women and children) found at the site suggest this was a place for ritual sacrifice or burial, and for the brutal execution of criminals and war captives.
Following the excavation, archaeologists and state officials restored the Goseck Circle’s wooden palisade to its original appearance. Woodworkers using only hand tools fashioned 1,675 oak poles, each more than 8 feet high. The site was opened to the public on December 21, 2005, the day of the winter solstice.
Here is where things get a little confusing. Another concentric circle monument about 90 miles north of the Goseck Circle is ALSO known as the German Stonehenge. The Pömmelte Ring Sanctuary, discovered in 1991, is approximately 600 years younger than the Goseck Circle. And like the Goseck Circle, the Pömmelte Ring Sanctuary is a wooden pole structure that served as an astronomical observatory and was the site of grisly human sacrifices and executions. Following a $2.3 million reconstruction, the Pömmelte Ring Sanctuary was reopened to the public in 2016.
The German state of Saxony-Anhalt recently established an archaeological tourist route called Himmelswege (“Sky Paths”) that takes visitors to both the Goseck Circle and the Pömmelte Ring Sanctuary, as well as a museum that houses countless fascinating prehistorical objects – including the famed Nebra Sky Disc, which incorporates the astrological knowledge seen at the two German Stonehenge monuments.