From a distance, Rujum el-Hiri looks like a pile of stones haphazardly thrown together by farmers clearing a field. Only after crossing a stream and climbing to the top of the heap does one find oneself surrounded by five immensely large, perfectly concentric stone circles. In the center, a pile of rocks towers seven meters over a prehistoric burial chamber, or cairn.

Discovered by Israeli archeologists in a survey after the Six Day War in 1967, the phenomenon labeled Rujum el-Hiri means "cat's foot" in Arabic; in Hebrew the site is known as Galgal Refaim (Giants' Circles). According to the Bible there were giants in the Golan Heights in prehistoric times, the last of whom was Og, King of Bashan (Deuteronomy 3:11).

Some experts believe that the ancient structure was built as a solar calendar about five thousand years ago. As you can see in this panorama, the sun rises exactly through the north-eastern gate on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Other researchers theorize that the huge field was a burial site. A third group suggests that the monument functioned as a religious and social focus for maintaining ties between wandering clans and tribes. It is also possibly some combination of all three theories.

The largest and outer circle of Rujum is 156 meters in diameter. Beyond it and surrounding this circle is a wide arc of over 100 dolmens ( prehistoric megalith) made up of an immense capstone supported by several upright stones. Crossing Rujum's concentric circles are radial walls which apparently were astronomically aligned. As they approach the northern axis of alignment the number of radial walls decreases.
It is estimated that it would have taken 100 workmen toiling eight hours a day and six days a week at least six years to build this phenomenal sits. And, no wonder, for the largest boulder weighs 5.5 tons, the walls were three meters high and at one time the circles are thought to have contained 42,000 tons of stones!

By analyzing lichen on some of the rocks, experts have concluded that the outer walls were built about 5,000 years ago. The cairn was apparently added a millenium or so later, perhaps by the Golan's urban population. (from Guide to the Golan Heights by Yisrael Shalem and Aviva Bar-Am, www.israeltravels.com . To order, contact Phyllis Shalem)


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