During the early morning sunrise on December 20th 2021, we (Hugh Newman and JJ Ainsworth) witnessed a stunning winter solstice alignment phenomena at Karahan Tepe in southeast Turkey that had not been observed since it was deliberately covered over at the end of its use, c.10,000 years ago. The authors propose this is the earliest ever proof of the winter solstice being incorporated into a megalithic structure, and redefines what we know about the sophistication of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic people at this time.
The alarm woke us suddenly at 5am. In our confused state, we remembered we were against the clock. We simply had to be at the site for sunrise, or we may never get to see the newly excavated Pre-Pottery Neolithic complex of Karahan Tepe. The previous evening Hugh received a message from Ismail, after he had briefly visited the site in the afternoon (Ismail is a member of the family that owns the land where the excavation was taking place). The message said that ‘officials’ and the ‘archaeologists’ were coming ‘first thing in the morning’ to cover the site for the winter. We dressed, washed, and grabbed our cameras, eating our breakfast in the car. The hotel’s restaurant was yet to open, but we managed to snag these few items. It was still dark outside, and the ground was wet. Clouds were in the sky, and as we climbed into the rental car, we prayed they would disperse in time for the sunrise.
Şanlıurfa city is a beautiful place before dawn. Quiet and still, the caves that lined the streets were still artificially lit as we sped by them to get on the highway out of town. We knew where we were going, and decided on one of three possible routes. The two shorter, but more treacherous routes, or the one that took us to a newly paved road leading to the site. We decided on the latter.
As we drove at a speed probably on the edge of the legal limit, we discussed what we might see when we got there. Today was the winter solstice. It was cold and it was windy, but the forecast looked good. We felt we would witness something remarkable this morning as our good friend and author Andrew Collins had found an alignment recording the summer solstice sunset at the place we were heading to. The winter sunrise is on the same alignment but in the opposite direction, so was this also built into the site, we wondered?
The clock was ticking, and we felt we’d be lucky to get a few minutes at the site before the officials arrived. We turned off the highway on the newly paved road taking us through the arid Tektek mountains with dozens of stone hills protruding out of a martian, dead landscape. It felt like visiting another world. We saw blue skies for the first time, and breaks in the cloud. As we arrived, we checked the time. It was a few minutes after sunrise, yet some clouds were still blocking the light. Would we see anything worthy of this effort? Would the sun grace us with its presence?
The new visitor centre was now in place, and we messaged Ismail, who agreed to be our official guide for the morning. We drank an obligatory glass of tea with him and his brothers before hurriedly climbing the hill to the area of excavation. The sun was starting to break through, and as the cold wind made its icy presence felt, the first light hit some of the enclosures. We had made it to Karahan Tepe, arguably the most important archaeological discovery of the 21st century, and we were not disappointed.
Karahan Tepe (formerly called Keçili Tepe) lies approximately 23 miles southeast of its more famous sister site, Göbekli Tepe, which was built a few hundred years earlier. Karahan Tepe has been dated to 11,400 – 10,200 years old, with over 250 monoliths recorded at the site, mostly T-pillars, as well as many unique stone carvings and statues recently unearthed. Like at Göbekli Tepe, this site is covered with many strange depictions of humans, symbols, and animals, but also with a sunken pit containing phallic-shaped pillars and a 3D portrayal of a human head with a serpentine neck. The artefacts from the excavation are now on display at the Şanlıurfa Archaeology Museum.
Karahan Tepe is a unique Pre-Pottery Neolithic complex built upon a large limestone hill. When viewing the horizon from its peak, it feels like it is in the middle of nowhere. There are several sites of a similar age and style being excavated right now in a zone called ‘Tas Tepeler,’ meaning ‘Stone Hills/Mounds’. This covers an area of 124 miles in width. Karahan Tepe is one of 11 sites under investigation. Göbekli Tepe being the primary site, it is the only one currently open to the public. At the time of writing, Karahan Tepe is yet to officially open, but visitors are welcome.
Hugh first explored the un-excavated site of Karahan Tepe in 2014 with Andrew Collins, with a further visit in 2015, and more recently with JJ Ainsworth in 2018. During these visits, only the tops of T-pillars on the surface of the hill, an 18ft-long unfinished T-shaped monolith below the hill on the western edge, and some relief carvings on a few stones were visible.1 For many years, it was an enduring mystery as to what would be found underneath. On previous visits, our minds raced with ideas regarding what might lie beneath our feet. Could this site be as awe-inspiring as Göbekli Tepe? What mysteries would eventually be revealed here?
In 2019 excavation finally began, led by archaeologist Prof. Necmi Karul, associate professor in the Prehistory Department of Istanbul University. As his team slowly uncovered the northern slopes of the stone hill, some astonishing discoveries began to be made. One of the most fascinating elements of the excavation was the ‘hypogeum’ style chambers and pits, and the way the western side of the main 75 ft-wide enclosure (Structure AD) has what appeared to be T-Pillars carved out of solid bedrock, whilst others in the circle were free-standing. The site looks like it was damaged (or decommissioned) before it was deliberately, and very carefully, covered over. Having said that, only one percent of Karahan Tepe has been opened up so far.
Necmi Karul wrote a paper examining the techniques and implications of the burying process 2 suggesting this was a very important part of the complex. He focussed on the AB Pit (also called the Pillar Shrine), a 7m by 6m shaft with 10 bedrock pillars, a free-standing monolith and a protruding carved head on the western wall. Its elongated neck has serpent scales etched into it and a V-shape under the chin. On the southeast edge of the pit is a 70cm wide porthole hole, that leads out to the main 75 ft-wide enclosure. Like at Göbekli Tepe, numerous holed stones have been unearthed at Karahan Tepe, but why was this one, which is carved from the natural bedrock, in this exact position in relation to the Pillar Shrine?
The Pillar Shrine has a trapezoidal plan with rounded corners. The 11th pillar is the only one not carved directly out of the bedrock; rather, it is inserted into a carved socket at its base. Martin Sweatman suggests this could be one-half of an oval annulus stone.3 Standing 1.6-1.7 metres high, the four pillars lined up in front of the head were crafted more elaborately than those in the back row, which are 1 – 1.4m tall. All pillars are conical, perfectly upright, and, all except one, are shaped like an erect phallus. Below the porthole are worn steps, which may have been where people would climb down after entering through the hole from Structure AD.
Observing the Winter Solstice Sun Effect
The authors visited Karahan Tepe early in the morning on the winter solstice of 2021 to see if any alignments would be revealed. Having a long standing interest in archaeoastronomy, and the fact that numerous alignments had been proposed at both Karahan Tepe and Göbekli Tepe, this was the first time the site had been excavated enough to witness such phenomena. Through a series of serendipitous events we arrived at the site in time to record something remarkable.
The sunrise on 20th December 2021 took place at 7.37am, although the horizon from Karahan Tepe has hills in view, so it took a few minutes before first light was witnessed (due to clouds, we could not see the first few minutes of sunrise). At 8.03am, we photographed a small blade of sunlight highlighting one side of the protruding head (note that we previously stated it was 50 mins after sunrise,5 now corrected to 26 mins). The light continued to slowly light up the serpentine neck, one cheek, and then it moved towards the mouth and neck, taking a total of 27 minutes before disappearing from the face. The blade of light was coming directly through the porthole stone rotating westwards at an angle where it would become wider and illuminate more of the face during the process. As the sun rose higher, more of the stone cranium began to be bathed in light, but the other 11 pillars still remained mostly in the shade. JJ set up a camera to film the process, while Hugh got shots from as many angles as possible. From 8.30am the top part of the porthole blocked the light to the head, but at 8.50am the forehead and scalp were photographed in full sunlight. We wondered if it was designed to illuminate the neck and face, pause for a moment of darkness, and then reveal a ‘halo’ of light at the final stage around the top of the head. As the sun continued rising, darkness prevailed in the Pillar Shrine, rotating westwards behind the rocky hill.
It also appears from the layout of the 75ft-wide enclosure that the sun would have beamed through between the two central pillars when they were upright, going through the 70cm-wide porthole at a sharp angle, before hitting the stone head, illuminating the head as described above. Necmi Karul stated that the stone head “looks to the entrance”4 towards the porthole stone, as though the eyes were carved to show it looking through the hole towards the winter solstice sun. It took some time to sink in that we were the first observers of this phenomenon since the Pillar Shrine was deliberately covered over ten millennia ago. We felt like we were witnessing one of the biblical gods, or a ‘Shining One,’ who had emerged from his or her slumber to gaze upon a very different world.
At this point, it is worth noting that natural features at the site may have been originally recognised by the builders, perhaps seeing the stone protrusion (which later was carved into the shape of a head and neck) then carving out a hole in the upright bedrock. We hypothesise that this area was chosen to be an early observation platform used by star-watchers, possibly from Göbekli Tepe, before it was built into what we see today.
“The two solstices were strongly emphasised… Midwinter, moreover, was recorded almost twice as heavily as midsummer… It is clear the turning points of the year, particularly the time of change from darkness and cold to light and warmth, were of very great importance to prehistoric people.”5
We sent our findings to Andrew Collins, who, with archaeoastronomer and engineer Rodney Hale, checked if this alignment was valid during the era of Karahan Tepe. They found that in 9000 BC, the sun’s rays would have passed through the porthole at essentially the same angle. What this means is that, provided no obstacles were in the way, the head would have been illuminated clearly. This validates the hypothesis that the alignment was deliberate. On previous checks using Stellarium, they found the sun to be at a slightly lower angle than it is today (depending on certain factors). This would have given an even better illumination of the stone head.
As seen from Karahan Tepe at the winter solstice 9000 BC, the sun would have risen at 7.26am at an azimuth of 119º, the same as in 2021. By 7.51am the sun would have reached an azimuth of 123º40, and by this time, it would have been at an altitude of 4º20’. It would have remained on the head through until 8.18am, a timeframe of some 27 minutes, by which time it would have reached an azimuth of 128º10’. This would have been the final moment of the head’s illumination. By this time, the sun would have been at an altitude of 8º33’.
At Karahan Tepe in 2021, the sun on the winter solstice first entered the pillars shrine via the porthole at 8.03am at an angle of 4º20’ altitude and an azimuth of 123º40’. This was some 26 minutes after sunrise based on a zero-level horizon. The sun then cast sunlight on the head for approximately 27 minutes through until 8:30am by which time the sun had reached an azimuth of approximately 128º10’ and an altitude of 8º27’. What this new information tells us is that in 9000 BC the same phenomena would have taken place, and the precise location of the carved hole in the porthole stone was essential for this purpose.7
On a visit to Karahan Tepe in September 2022, the authors noticed a small hill on the horizon which may be a man-made cairn, located, according to our calculations, at the point where the sun would first appear on the winter solstice morning in 9000 BC. An image using the Theodolite app is shown below. If this is a marker for the sunrise, it would be classed as a foresight (a mark on a distant location) often used for astronomical observations. There are also un-excavated structures heading in that direction going down the hill, suggesting stone markers along the alignment. If this cairn on the hill proves to be man-made and aligns correctly, this would give yet more credence to the winter solstice alignment. However, further observations during the winter solstice, a site visit to the cairn to determine if it is of the Neolithic era, and then further analysis using astronomical software needs to be carried out to verify this.
Archaeoastronomers are thought to usually look for the moment of sunrise to use as a specific time marker. However, Karahan Tepe and numerous other sites which are famous for their solar alignments do not follow this rule.
The illumination of the carvings on the back chamber at Newgrange in the Boyne Valley of Ireland is also ‘late’ in astronomical terms as it begins 4 minutes after sunrise and lasts for a total of 17 minutes. The sun’s light passes through a very small porthole stone (lightbox) above the main entrance, illuminating the passageway and roofed chamber, highlighting certain carvings and a stone bowl on its way through. A 24cm-long polished sandstone phallus was found at Newgrange, with archaeologists commenting that fertility rites may have been carried out there.8 The original Gaelic name of Newgrange, An Uanh Greine, means ‘Cave of the Sun.’ At nearby Loughcrew, the equinox sun (in March and September) illuminates numerous carvings moving slowly west to east across the inscribed stone. This takes 50 minutes to complete.
A winter solstice sunrise alignment is found at Karnak in Egypt, where for 25 minutes, the sun’s rays pierce the Sanctuary of Amun Ra, finally reaching the ‘Holy of Holies’ in the heart of the site. On Rapa Nui (Easter Island), a system of holes bored in the rock at the Orongo ruins was found to indicate the December 21st solstice (summer solstice in the southern hemisphere).9
In Malta, the megalithic temple of Ħaġar Qim has an entrance orientated to the winter solstice. Direct sunlight passes through the main doorway and falls on the main altar. As the sun rises higher, it shifts to the left side along the main corridor and reaches the total length of the passageway before it begins to retreat. A similar phenomena happens at Mnajdra where a dagger of light illuminates a vertical slab in the first apse. On the summer solstice, it appears on the other side of the apse.10 Many Maltese sites have porthole stones, like those found at both Göbekli Tepe and Karahan Tepe, which were utilised to direct the sunrise light into the interior of temples. According to Lenie Reedijk, Ħaġar Qim aligned to the setting of Sirius perfectly in 9,150 BC when it started to appear just above the horizon (similar alignments have been proposed at Göbekli Tepe). This could push the dating of Maltese temples back to the time of the Tas Tepeler sites in Turkey.11
At Chaco Canyon, Arizona, a small, yet remarkable petroglyph of a spiral or labyrinth records a blade of light entering from a thin gap in the rocks above, marking the solstices and equinoxes. On the winter solstice, two daggers of light appear either side of the petroglyph for 49 minutes, during which they precisely frame the spiral.12
Stonehenge, famous for its summer solstice sunrise alignment, is also aligned to the winter solstice sunrise.13 There is a direct sightline that runs through the monument aligning along the ‘Altar Stone’, going through a deliberately carved notch (which frames it perfectly), pointing directly at the rising point of the sun over Coneybury Hill in the distance. Stonehenge also contains a perfect winter solstice sunset orientation matching the direction of the avenue (exactly opposite to the summer solstice sunrise).14 Feasting and community gathering also took place over the winter solstice at nearby Durrington Walls. Furthermore, three huge Mesolithic post holes date the site back to 8000 BC, close to the era of Karahan Tepe.
In Carnac, Brittany, the Crucuno Quadrilateral megalithic site incorporates the winter and summer solstices to its corners. It is laid out as a 3-4-5 Pythagorean triangle, measuring 30 by 40 by 50 megalithic yards in size (a megalithic yard is 2.72 feet or 0.83 metres and used frequently in British stone circles). Dolmen de Rondossec has two chambers aligned to the winter solstice, where the back stone gets illuminated. Furthermore, the angle of the solstice at this latitude is the diagonal of a perfect 3-4-5 Pythagorean triangle. This was incorporated not only into the sites, but also over vast distances between sites. Strikingly similar landscape geometries have been found in the Tas Tepeler region (details of this will be revealed in a forthcoming article).
This particular discovery at Karahan Tepe may have been the world’s first sundial (or a negative sundial as the light rather than the shadow is the marker), as it measures the solar year to within a few minutes. It is arguably the world’s oldest known ‘solar clock’ using the winter solstice to restart the cycle. The light coming through the porthole stone during the equinoxes and summer solstice sunrises (and all in-between) would be out of line with the stone head and would barely touch any of the pillars in the Pillar Shrine, only illuminating part of a blank wall between the porthole and the head. Therefore, the winter solstice alignment at Karahan Tepe works perfectly as an annual marker to begin the year, and can still be witnessed today.
Did a roof at Karahan Tepe block the alignment?
Artistic representations of the site suggest the main enclosure at Karahan Tepe once had a roof, held up by the T-pillars. However, no evidence of any roofs have been found at either Karahan Tepe or Göbekli Tepe. Only circumstantial evidence suggesting these were instead ‘houses’ (albeit ones incredibly rich in symbolic content, built with up to 18ft-tall monoliths).15 In regards to Karahan Tepe, if one was in place, it would have been quite possibly the largest in the world at the time, as the enclosure is 75 feet wide. Even if one was in place, it could easily have left an opening to the southeast to allow the low passing of the sun to illuminate the stone head on the winter solstice.
Having a temporary roof over the Pillar Shrine may have some basis in reality as it has clear ledges and flat surfaces to place one there. However, the two rows of pillars are at different heights, and the top of the head is also slightly higher than both. Furthermore, a roof being used during this time of year would have certainly enhanced the experience, illuminating the chamber in a more profound way.
The winter solstice phenomena, having been directly observed in real time, is hard to ignore, so even if a roof once existed, it may not have hindered astronomical observations, much like we find at sites such as Newgrange.
Summer Solstice Sunset and a Lunisolar Calendar
There are more theories that Karahan Tepe was used to observe and measure movements in the sky. In October 2021, Andrew Collins found a summer solstice sunset alignment, oriented along the primary direction of the second unfinished hypogeum pit (Structure AA). This revealed, that in 9000 BC the Milky Way would be vertical above the horizon 2.5 hours later in the same position at the sunset.16
Collins also found that from the southern entrance of the main enclosure (Structure AD), when looking through the porthole stone over the free-standing monoliths in the Pillar Shrine and to the peak of nearby Keçili Hill (where there are ruins), the setting of Cygnus would have occurred in 9000 BC, as it does at Göbekli Tepe.
At Göbekli Tepe, Enclosure F (a smaller, later structure west of the main group) is oriented west-southwest to east-northeast to within a degree of the rising of the sun at the time of the summer solstice and the setting of the sun at the winter solstice.17
Martin Sweatman suggests a Lunisolar calendar was in use at Karahan Tepe (and on Pillar 43 at Göbekli Tepe).18 The 11 pillars in the Pillar Shrine, he proposed, represent the 11 Lunar months and 11 epagomenal days (intercalary month), which are used to complete a solar year. The free-standing 11th pillar could represent the summer solstice, which Sweatman believes was as a unique epagomenal day at Göbekli Tepe. The stone head may represent the final lunar month. To summarise:
Stone Head = 1 lunar month = 29 or 30 days
+ 11 pillars = 11 more lunar months = 354 days
+ 11 pillars = 11 epagomenal days (of which one, the summer solstice, is special) = 365 days at 1 solar year
Although Sweatman’s ideas do not take into account the newly discovered alignment (which could give credence to his theory), it certainly contributes to the debate. The winter solstice sunrise alignment is highly likely to have been the observable annual time-marker that restarted a calendar every year. The moon, as Sweatman emphasises in his paper, may also have played a part in the calendrical and ceremonial cycle.
The Moon and Eclipses
It is an astronomical fact that there would have been certain full moons near the summer solstice, which moved along the same path as the winter solstice sun. This bright full moon would have lit up the stone head through the porthole, much like the sun does during the winter solstice. Skywatchers at this time would have identified these moments during the 18.6 year period when the full moon is located on or near one of the nodes in the “solstice” positions. We asked Andrew Collins and Rodney Hale to investigate this, and they concluded: “In 9015 BC according to Stellarium and Hale’s calculations the full moon would indeed have cast its light into Structure AB to illuminate the stone head on the west wall, just as the sun would have done at the time of the winter solstice.”19 This would have occurred just before the summer solstice (which would have been during August in 9015 BC).
A full moon in such a position has a high likelihood of being eclipsed because it is always located directly opposite to the sun. When the sun is at standstill during the summer solstice, and the moon takes the position of where the sun was at winter solstice, eclipses would occasionally occur and could have been recorded at Karahan Tepe by direct observation. If one year it occurred on or close to the summer solstice, it may also have coincided with the Milky Way rising vertically in the sky 2.5 hours after sunset. More research needs to be carried out to check this, but this rare alignment of the full moon, a possible eclipse, and a vertical Milky Way would have been a spectacular sight to behold during the summer solstice period. The solstices were clearly important time markers for the megalith builders in the Tas Tepeler region.
At some point, perhaps close to 8000 BC, it was decided to close down Karahan Tepe. After nearly 1500 years of use, the final observation of the winter solstice alignment may have been chosen for this special day, before the Pillar Shrine was carefully filled in with stone, debris, soil and finally, larger flagstones completing the process. Those who took part in this decommissioning of the site can be imagined foreseeing the future, envisioning who would be the first people to once again witness this unique winter solstice illumination. That day came on 20th December 2021, and will no doubt be witnessed by many more in the years to come.
Part two will look at the meaning of the winter solstice discovery, examining ancient texts and myths of the area, and how it relates to fertility, regeneration and inspired the genesis of agriculture.
1. Newman, Hugh. The Forgotten Stones of Karahan Tepe, Turkey. 2014. www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places-europe-opinion-guest-authors/forgotten-stones-karahan-tepe-turkey-001917
2. Prof. Dr. Karul, Necmi. Buried Buildings at Pre-Pottery Neolithic Karahantepe. 2021. Türk Arkeoloji ve Etnografya Dergisi 82.
3. Sweatman, Martin. Likely lunisolar calendar systems at Göbekli Tepe and Karahan Tepe. 2021/2022. https://martinsweatman.blogspot.com/2022/11/update-to-lunisolar-paper.html
4. Graham Hancock interviewing Necmi Karul inside the Pillar Shrine on Ancient Apocalypse, Episode 5, ‘Legacy of the Sages’, Netflix, 2022
5. Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany. Yale University Press, 2000. p.62
6. Newman, Hugh, and Ainsworth, J.J. 2021. Karahan Tepe: Stunning New Discovery of Winter Solstice Sunrise Alignment. www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/karahan-tepe-winter-solstice-0016212
7. Personal communication by email with Andrew Collins and Rodney Hale. Also, during the initial excavation of the AB Pit, it shows that the top part of the portal stone was broken off, but whether this was an accident by excavators, or was found like this is unclear. It was subsequently repaired and put back in its original position by the archaeologists. This broken lintel can be seen in Graham Hancock’s Netflix show Ancient Apocalypse (2022) where filming took place in late 2020, just before the repair. Many other ancient sites have been restored in a similar way and do not affect alignments like this one at Karahan Tepe.
8. Murphy, Anthony and Moore, Richard. Island of the Setting Sun: In Search of Ireland’s Ancient Astronomers. Liffey Press 2006. p.173
9. Ramirez and Huber. Easter Island, pp. 53, 110 and www.ancient-wisdom.com/easterisland.htm
10. Degirmenci, B.Kristin. Sun Worship and the Magnificent Megalithic Temples of the Maltese Islands. academia.edu
11. Sirius: The Star of the Maltese Temples. Reedijk, Lenie, Malet Books, 2018. p.126
13. Banton, Simon. 2022. The Secondary Solstice Axis. www.stonehengemonument.co.uk/2022/
14. Daw, Tim. 2012. Stonehenge – The Resurrection Alignment. www.sarsen.org/2012/07/stonehenge-resurrection-alignment.html
16. Andrew Collins Karahan Tepe Update #2 Prof. Necmi Karul’s paper on the new discoveries explained. https://youtu.be/GSlGuiIINDA
17. Collins, Andrew. 2014. Karahan Tepe: Gobekli Tepe’s Sister Site Another Temple to the Stars? www.andrewcollins.com/page/articles/Karahan.htm
18. Sweatman, Martin. Likely lunisolar calendar systems at Göbekli Tepe and Karahan Tepe. 2021/2022. https://martinsweatman.blogspot.com/2022/11/update-to-lunisolar-paper.html
19. Collins, Andrew and Hale, Rodney. 2022. A Brief Look at Full Moon Risings at Karahan Tepe for the Epoch 9000-9015 BCE and Some Thoughts on Lunar Synchronizations with the Interior of the site’s Structure AB (Pillars Shrine) (unpublished).
Hugh Newman is the author of Earth Grids (2008), Stone Circles (2017) and co-author of Giants On Record: America’s Hidden History, Secrets in the Mounds and the Smithsonian Files (2015), The Giants of Stonehenge and Ancient Britain (2021), Megalith: Studies In Stone (2018) and Geomancy (2021). He is a world explorer, Megalithomania Conference organiser and tour/expedition leader. He has appeared on History Channel, Discovery, Gaia TV, Smithsonian Channel and Science channel. He lives next to Stonehenge in Wiltshire, UK. www.megalithomania.co.uk.
JJ Ainsworth is a researcher and explorer based in the US, who is an expert on ancient symbolism and connections between sites worldwide. She has featured on Forbidden History (Discovery Channel) Secrets of the Ark (Science Channel), numerous radio shows and podcasts and has published articles on www.ancient-origins.net. JJ has given lectures at Megalithomania in Glastonbury, the Origins Conference in London, and UFO MegaCon in Nevada, and leads tours to Egypt, Turkey, Mexico and Malta. www.youtube.com/c/megalithicmaiden