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Tamila Potyomkina

Savin Sanctuary in the Trans-Urals region

The Savin Sanctuary of the Eneolithic epoch (BC 3000 - 2500) at the Tobol river in the Trans-Ural region (geographical latitude - 55,4° North, longitude - 65,5°) is one of the earliest archeoastronomical object with circular architecture researched in Russia. It is the only analogous to European henges and rondelles in Russia at present.

The site is placed on rising ground (350x60 m) in wide flood-lands. The most elevated (up to four metres) west part of the site was excavated in area 1300 square metres in 1982-85, 1997 and 2000 years (Fig 1).


The constructions of two joining circles with diameters of fourteen and sixteen metres outlined by ditches were discovered by excavations. Two passages with parallel palings four metres long and more one metres wide directed to the first circle on the west-east line. In the second circle the passage in the form of gap in the ditch was on the north-east direction. There were a right-angled-shaped hollows like dug-outs (7x6 m and 9x6 m) in the centre of the both circles. Main finds were concentrated there (Fig. 2).

Two concentric rings with post-holes and bonfire-pits were discovered at the bottom of the circular ditches (Fig 3) and around them on the outside with 1.5-2.5 m intervals (more than 120 in all) (Fig 4). Some post-holes were in hollows in centre of the circles. Sacrificial animal bones (about 4000 pieces) accumulations including vessel crocks (more than 6000) and stone tools (1700 patterns) were discovered around many holes, in the ditch and in centre of the circles (Fig 5, 6). Prevalent part of bones (80%) belongs to horses. A pit with adult and child skulls inside the first circle and the skeletal remains two adult men and a girl in the ditch of the second circle were discovered.


Detected accumulations were corresponded to the certain Solar and Lunar reference-points. More than 70% of them were near the central posts and posts directed to the east and north-south-east from the centre. These directions coincide with the sunrise equinox and solstice days for the latitude of the site location (Fig. 7).

The astronomic computations confirmed archaeological observations: all main astronomic directions were marked out at the Savin Sanctuary. Thus there was a thick post (1) in the south part central ground of the first circle's of the sanctuary. The next post (18) just like this was in the ditch strictly to the north of the first one. So there was exactly defined astronomical directions in the first circle of the construction. The east-west direction was marked by two passages, the north-south one by two posts (1, 18) or by four posts (18-1-35-36) (Fig. 2). Observing a sunrise and a sunset through the passages one could determine beforehand the days of the vernal and autumnal equinoxes.


Also in the north part of the circle six posts were disposed more or less symmetrically relative to the middle mid-day one-four posts (19-22) to its right, two ones (14, 16) to its left. It was possible that these posts in the ditch fixed the position of the shadow of the central post. During some time about mid-day it was like a gnomon (a kind of sun-dial). The sun-dial of the Savin might divide time into different intervals in different days of a year (Fig. 8). In equinoxial days the shadow is displaced from one post to another during 34±3.5 minutes, in the summer solstice day during 25±3 minutes (calculated by V. Yurevitch). In the south part and the edge of the ditch 5-6 posts form the semicircle. They are on a straight line with the central one and the other described posts of the north semicircle (22-1-34, 19-1-35, 16-1-38, 14-1-37). Small deflections are normal. We must remember that such an ancient wooden and earthen construction of 5000 years ago remained only in the form of spots and deepenings of different colour and intensity of the ground colouring. This creates some mistakes in fixing the time of the remains.


By the archaeological data the second circle was constructed later than the first one. During the excavation a point near the circle centre was not marked, but was found out by the method of reverse directions. Seven holes of the thick posts were accurately fixed in the ditch and outside it. They placed six directions from that point. They mark six sun azimuths: the sunrises (60°, 62 - 43°; 90°, 118 - 90°; 114 - 133°) and sunsets (77°, 95 - 227°; 93°, 94 - 226°; 35 - 270°, 18 - 317°) in the equinox and solstice days. Sunset in the summer solstice was marked by already known middle post (18) in the north part of the first circle. The azimuth is calculated according to the phenomena of the appearance of the upper edge of the sun at the skyline in the year 2000 BC.

With solar azimuths connect also two banks located outside circles. Their sections confirmed their man-made origin and connections with the circular buildings. The banks and ring structures with pots by designs entered into a uniform architectural complex of the Sanctuary (Fig. 1).


The first (Minor) bank 30 m long and 0.5 m height extended from the eastern entrance to east direction. Its axis, the post (1) in the centre of the first circle and other posts (50,63,60,61) in the ditch with thick animal bones and other finds accumulation near it were on one west-east line (Fig. 9). The second (Major) bank 100 m long, 0.4 - 0.9 m height located in 150 m distance to the east from the centre of the second circle (Fig. 10). On both sides of the bank small ditches were discovered. Axis of the bank coincides exactly with the west-east line, the central post of the second circle, two posts in the ditch to the east (90) and to the west (35) from it, one post (118) outside (Fig. 11). Under embankments of both banks some post-holes, arboreal decay, traces of bonfires, pieces of coal were discovered.


Then there are moon reference-points at the sanctuary. The post-holes wide arc outlining the second circle from the south is especially interesting from this point of view. One can think of the post-hole (63) in the north part of the circle between the centre and the ditch as the relative centre of the arc. At least the thickest posts of the arc are roughly at the same distance (about 20 m) from it. Directions from this relative centre to the most visible posts in the south-east coincide with three astronomical reference-points: 63 - 114 - high moonrise (azimuth 150°); 63 - 115 - sunrise in winter solstice (133°); 63 - 116 - low moonrise (125°). The moon azimuths are calculated for the centre of the moon disk.

The south-west directions are marked too: 63 - 96 - high moonset (210°); 63 - 92 - sunset in the winter solstice (227°); 63 - 75 - low moonset (235°). The post (112) outside the ditch is place exactly to the south from the central post-hole. The last post (63) is on the east-west line marked by the post-holes both inside the second circle, in the ditch of it, and in the ditch and outside of the first circle (63 - 61a; 63 - 46 - 48 - 30 - 31).


Illustrations of the lunar calendar (bone plate with signs, vessel with the corresponding ornamental sign system and etc.) were discovered. These artefacts can have the effect of the moon phases and moon symbolism (Potyomkina 1998: 320, fig. 7, 8).

Stratigraphic and planigraphic data are evidence of three stages of the sanctuary active period. The most early one is connected with the first circle and two passages entrance - sights. At all steges old posts-markers pointed to the main astronomic directions were used too. Posts were moved, changed for new ones. Total time of the sanctuary activity was in period of some ten years.

The studies have shown that Savin Sanctuary had its functions mainly associated with the hunting rites reflected in the year by cycle of the alternation of the season in a hunting calendar (Fig 11). We have reason to suppose that the people who visited the Savin site had already used a calendar in the form of the Moon and Sun. The main forms of a cult performance were collective sacrifices, accompanied by magic rituals.

Author: Tamila Potyomkina
Institute of Archaeology, Moscow, Russia


1. Potyomkina, T.M., 1998. The Trans- Ural "Stonehenge" (the Stone Age Sanctuary with astronomic reference points). In: Astronomical and Astrophysical Transactions.Vol. 15. Pp. 307- 324.

2. Potyomkina, T.M., 1998. A Stonehenge beyond the Urals. In: Science in Russia, 4.Pp. 8-15.

3. Potyomkina, T.M., 1999. Archaeoastronomical object of the Eneolithic epoch in Russia. In: Oxford VI and SEAC 99. "Astronomy and cultural diversity" Editors Ce'sar Esteban, Iuan Antoni'o Belmonte. Proceedings of the International Conference "Oxford VI and SEAC 99". La Laguna, 1999. P. 71-76.


4. Potyomkina, T.M., 2001. Eneoliticheskiye krugloplanovyje sviatilishcha Zauralia v sistiemie skhodnykh kultur I modeley stepnoy Evrazii. In: Mirovozzreniye drevniego naseleniya Evrazii, otvietstvienny redactor M.A. Devlet. Moskva: 166-256 (in Russian).

5. Potyomkina, T.M., 2002. The Trans - Ural Eneolithic Sanctuaries with Astronomical Reference Points in System of Similar Eurasian Models. In: Complex Societies of Central Eurasia from the 3rd to 1st Millennium BC. Regional Specifics in Light of Global Models, ed. K. Jones Bley and D.G. Zdanovich. - Journal of Indo-European Studies Monograph. Series №45, Vol. 1. Institute for the Study of Man. Washington, D.C., Pp. 269-282.

6. Potyomkina, T.M. and. Yurevitch, V.A, 1998. Iz opyta arkheoastronomicheskogo issledovaniya arkheologicheskih pamiatnikov (metodicheskiy aspet). Moskva. 52 p. (in Russian).

List of Figures
Fig. 11

Figure 1. Savin Sanctuary - Total plan. 1- excavated parts; 2- old swamped river-bed; 3- circular buildings outlined by the ditches; 4- excavated parts numbers; 5- Minor and Major banks.

Figure 2. Savin Sanctuary - Plan. 1-outlines of the trenches and pits; 2- illegible outlines; 3- carbonized layer; 4- annealed layer; 5- pits filled with bones; 6- accumulations of bones in trenches and on the horizon of buried soil; 7- ochre spots; 8- broken pots; 9- an accumulation of pottery; 10- a pit filled with men's skulls; 11- the border of the Minor bank in the excavated part; 12- the Sun; 13- the Moon; 14- the direction of rising; 15- the direction of setting.

Figure 3. Savin Sanctuary. Southern part of the ditch of the second circle.

Figure 4. Savin Sanctuary. The bottom of the circular ditch in the northern part of the first circle with the post-holes (section H-J/1, 2).

Figure 5. Savin Sanctuary. Ceramics.

Figure 6. Savin Sanctuary. The stone tools.

Figure 7. Sanctuary Savin. Reconstruction of construction.

Figure 8. Savin Sanctuary. Reconstructions of the time-marker posts in the northern part of the first circle.

Figure 9. Accumulation of finds - the remains of sacrificials animals, pottery, and stone tools - inside the first circle (section J/4, 5).

Figure 10. Savin Sanctuary. A view on the Major bank from northwest.

Figure 11. Savin Sanctuary. A view on the the Major bank from the centre of the second circle. On an axis of the bank there are poles put on a place of the post-holes №90, №118 and in trench under the bank.