Some believe that the era of the greatest archaeological discoveries is over. Many tombs have been excavated and ancient architectural complexes have been discovered. In our time of digital technologies, many mysteries of ancient civilizations have been unraveled. But modern technologies also help us to open new pages in the book that historical science has put on the shelf to gather dust. New research methods allow us to have a different look at civilizations of the ancient world.

In 2012, my attention was attracted by a group of mounds of unusual shape and with an interesting location. They are located on a plateau called Bezvodovka near the town of Ichnia, Chernigiv region, Ukraine. The barrows, instead of the usual conical shape, are cup-shaped and arranged in a circle with a diameter of up to two hundred meters. Dark spots can be seen on the aerial photographs, possibly more of the site destroyed by time and plow mounds. An 1861 topographic map of Schubert’s confirms the existence of other mounds in this complex.

Schubert’s 1861 topographic map, which shows more mounds than what can be seen today.

Schubert’s 1861 topographic map, which shows more mounds than what can be seen today.

The questions arise: are these barrows burial mounds? If so, why don’t they look like other graves in the region? And why are they surrounded by earthen walls? Are they defenses? If so, why are they scattered over a large area, which does not conform with the rules of warfare?

If you stand in the center of the circle and measure the azimuth of each mound (the direction of a celestial object from the observer, expressed as an angular distance), you find that they coincide with azimuths of sunrise and sunset during the summer and winter solstices. It also coincides with the azimuths of the spring and autumn equinox. On Schubert’s map, many other embankments can be identified within a radius of several kilometers from the group of mounds. These repeat the azimuths of the mounds of the center circle. The conclusion is unequivocal – an ancient solar observatory, the system near and distant targets for astronomical research.

Sunset at Bezvodovka on the Summer solstice, June 22. Credit: Oleksandr Klykavka

The principle of the work is as follows. At the center of a mound circle is an observer that marks the points of sunrise and sunset, the moonrise and the moonset and other celestial bodies on the horizon. At the time of sunrise and sunset on the days of the astronomically significant events of the solstices and equinoxes, a distant landmark, a near reference point and the observer’s eye align in one line. The same working principle is the basis of alignments at Stonehenge and other ancient observatories, of which there are many in Europe. But the horizon observatory of Bezvodovka is different by its scale.