Stonehenge gets all of the publicity and the seasonal festivals, but does it deserve its reputation as possibly the world’s oldest astronomical observatory? Australia’s indigenous people may disagree now that researchers have confirmed that a mysterious stone circle was used by ancient Australians for that purpose 7,000 years before Stonehenge.
Wurdi Youang, the name given to the stone arrangement by the people of the Wada Warrung nation, is located at Mount Rothwell in Victoria. It consists of about 100 basalt stones laid out in an irregular egg-shaped circle. They range in height from 20 cm (7.8 inches) to 1 m (3.3 feet), with the three tallest at the highest point of the ring on the western side. Wurdi Youang was found by early European settlers and has been studied by archaeologists, but its purpose has never been confirmed.
Some academics have referred to this stone arrangement here as Australia’s version of Stonehenge. I think the question we might have to ask is: is Stonehenge Britain’s version of Wurdi Youang? Because this could be much, much older.
Monash University astronomer Dr. Duane Hamacher revealed in a recent interview that he has been studying newly-rediscovered documents about the site, including interviews with local elders retelling traditional folklore about the stones. This helps explain new discoveries of the remains of buildings and evidence of eel farming around the site. Further digging around the stones requires the permission of current Wathaurong elders. Hamacher hopes to use thermoluminescence, which can tell how long soil underneath the stones has been shielded from light, or trapped organic matter to determine when the site was set up, which current analysis now puts at 11,000 years ago – predating both Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids.
The astronomical purpose of the stone arrangement was lost when Europeans replaced the constellation definitions of the native people with their own. Hamacher is working with the elders to recover that knowledge from the ancient Australians..
They understand very well the motions of the sun, the moon, the planets and the stars throughout the year and over longer periods of time. White Australians don’t generally recognise that the history of colonialism has erased that, so what we’re doing is helping the communities piece that information back together by working with communities.
Is Wurdi Youang the world’s oldest astronomical observatory? Probably not, but if that structure is to be found, there’s a good possibility it will be in Australia, where there are similar stone arrangements made by indigenous people in Victoria and in northern New South Wales.
Once again, history written by the invaders is being replaced by the true history of the people who lived it.