The Oldest Stonehenge? 

    More than fifteen years of study has been focused on the stones at Sissian, beginning in the 1980's when archeologists first uncovered mausoleums at the site.  Before then, the site wasn't more than a curiosity, though in the 19th century it was endowed with fertility powers—pictures taken in the 1890's show women lying prone across stones in an effort to "cure bareness".  

Sissian was not alone in holding prehistoric and ancient stones endowed with supernatural powers.  Three caves in Vayots Dzor region were renowned for the fertility properties of certain stalactites.  Even today pagan rituals are preserved, including "Matagh" (sacrifice) and tying bits of clothing to trees near churches in a sort of "wish tree" or "burning bush" ritual.  Supplicants, especially from villages, still follow pre-Christian rites of walking seven times clockwise (i.e. the path of the sun encircling around the earth) around a church wile praying and holding a sacrificial animal.  Steeped in tradition, the Armenian church—just as the church in Rome—usurped pagan traditions and converted them to a Christian purpose, but they exist underneath all the same. Almost all 4th-7th century churches were built over pagan temples, carefully preserving pagan traditions of orienting the altar to the East, the entrance to the West and following a strict sacred numerology of constructing churches on a ratio of 1 to 2 and 1 to 3.  

The superstitions surrounding sites like that at Sissian made the archeological discoveries in the 1980's all the more profound.  But it also opened a controversy around the reason for the stones, and just how old they are.  Archeologists excavating site said the age of the site—including the stones—to be mid 3rd millennium BC, but the reason for the stones was never fully explained.  

Parsamian and her assistant Alexander Barsegian conducted the first astronomical study into its mysteries in 1983.  Archeologists thought the stones were simply placed around the circa 3000-2000 BCE graves located nearby as monuments.  They were immediately struck by  the overall design and the number of stones at the sight.  To Parsamian—who had just received recognition for her ground-breaking explanation of the purpose and date for the observatory at Metsamor—the purpose of the stones at Sissian were never adequately explained by excavators, and dating is still to be determined.  

"I was told the stones were perhaps ornamental, and the holes were drilled simply so they could be lifted by cranes and put in place,"  Parsamian said with a smile.  "Which is funny, when you consider these stones weigh up to 10 tons, and the holes are placed near their thinnest parts.  They would break in a few seconds."  

What Parsamian was able to conclude was that the stones were a particular kind of telescopic instrument.  She noted that stones on the Western side of the complex held "antsk" (eye-holes), and that they all pointed to the horizon.    While archeologists were unable to conclude their purpose as they focused on artifacts found under the ground, Parsamian's experience as an astronomer made her look instinctively to the stars above.  "Those eye-holes were pointing exactly at the horizon," Parsamian says, "they looked at specific points in the night sky in different directions."  While excavators spent their days at the site, Parsamian and her assistants worked in the night and at dawn.  What they found was astonishing.  "From these holes you can watch lunar phases and the sunrise at the solstice."  

Coming on the heels of her remarkable discovery at Metsamor, the stones at Sissian confirmed her original hypothesis—ancestral Armenians were indeed navigators, they had an intimate understanding of the stars, how to plot latitude and longitude, even how to divide time.    

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