Sixteen kilometers east of the Sea of Galilee in the western part of the historic Bashan plain of the Golan Heights , Israel are the ruins of a most unusual structure, which scholars believe was built at least in part for archaeo-astronomical purposes. I have been there since Rujm el Hiri is on the Golan Trail. Located at 515 meters above sea level, Rujm el-Hiri consists of a central cairn, a dolmen, covered with a mound of rocks, a tumulus, with a set of concentric rings encircling it.
Built during the late Chalcolithic or Early Bronze Age about 5000 years ago, Rujm el-Hiri (also called Rogem Hiri or Gilgal Rephaim) is made of an estimated 40,000 tons of uncut black volcanicbasalt field stones piled and wedged into between five and nine concentric rings (depending on how you count them), with heights reaching to 1 to 2.5 meters (3-8 feet) high. The name of the site refers to “giants”. It is possible that the inhabitants of the Chacolithic Golan were taller than the nomadic peoples who built the site.
Sites such as Stonehenge and Rujm el Hiri raise interesting and curious theories such as those proposed in the following video.
A very good model and audio-visual explanation of Gilgal Rephaim can be found in the Golan Archaeological Museum, in nearby Katzrin, which is accessible.
So what does this unusual ancient monumental construction mean? Who originally built it, and why?
A variety of proposed explanations have emerged. A large following suggests that it was a place of worship, where ceremonies were held during the longest and shortest days of the year. Others maintain that it was simply a monumental burial site for a major chieftain or important leader. Still others advance suggestions that it was a place to conduct astronomical observations for calculations related to religious purposes or an ancient calendar for agricultural purposes. All of the hypotheses have been based on interpretations of the material remains discovered and studied at the site.
One new theory, however, stands out from the rest, and takes into account not only the archaeological evidence at the site, but also the cultural contexts of ancient Chalcolithic practices and the surrounding Chalcolithic archaeological sites.
Dr. Rami Arav, long-time co-director of the Bethsaida excavations northeast of the coast of the Sea of Galilee and Professor of Religion and Philosophy at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, has proposed that the site was built for both funerary purposes and as a means for “excarnation”, the removal of flesh from the bones of the deceased for placement in ossuaries, or bone boxes, by the ancient Chalcolithic inhabitants of the area.
The practice is interpreted by some to suggest that the ancient Chalcolithic people, at least in this area of the ancient Near East, believed in a resurrection. The ossuaries were seen as “magic boxes” that had the power to resurrect the dead. But again this is just a theory.