Myths associated with sacred mountains as places where the sky and the earth are linked and places where gods live have been registered in the history of all ancient nations and cultures. By a ritual climbing on the sacred mountain the people were returning to their origins and getting in contact with their gods. Thus, for instance, God Shiva-Maheshvara in India always descended on the top of Mount Ba-Phnom, 72 Chinese emperors offered sacrifices on the top of Mount Tai, Moses received the stone tablets with God’s commandments on the top of Mount Sinai, and so on.
In the Republic of Macedonia in 2001, under the mountain peak of Tatikev Kamen, an archaeological site was discovered from the Bronze Age in human civilization development. The discovered artifacts in the archaeological campaigns, as well as the archaeoastronomical analysis in the following years, demonstrated that the site had all the characteristics of a mythical mountain, as well as of an ancient observatory. Today, this site is known under the name of Kokino Megalith Observatory, or simply Kokino.
The Kokino Megalith Observatory is located on the north-east part of Macedonia near the border with Serbia (more precisely: geographic latitude 42.15 degrees, geographic longitude 21.57 degrees). It is situated in the region of the village of Kokino, on the border with the village of Arbanasko. Today, the entire region is scarcely inhabited, so that in the dozen surrounding villages there live less than 1,000 people. This situation is a result of two factors: the lagging behind the industrial development and absence of conditions for agricultural development and cattle breeding on the one and the tempestuous history of this region in the past centuries on the other side.
As an illustration, we can mention the more recent historic events. At the end of the 17th century (in 1689, to be more precise) the famous Karpos Uprising broke out. The leader of the uprising, Karpos, tried to profit from the great defeat that the Turks had suffered from the Austrian army under the Vienna’s ramparts. Austrian General Piccolomini chased the Turks as far as Skopje, and Karpos had hoped that, in cooperation with Piccolomini, he could liberate these regions from the Turkish slavery. However, Piccolomini soon withdrew with his army and Karpos’s rebels were left on their own. The Turks suppressed in blood the uprising, while the people from this region had to flee from the Turkish retaliations. Due to these reasons, the whole region had been practically uninhabited until the beginning of the 19th century. At that time (in 1804) the First Uprising broke out in Serbia, which also ended without success and was suppressed in blood in 1813. Running away from the Turks, these parts were inhabited by larger groups of Serbs from the north, because of which today the population in the surrounding villages is a mixed combination of Serbs and Macedonians.
The settlers had an influence on the changing of the toponyms in the region. So, for instance, the peak of the mountain where the site is located is called Tatikev Kamen (Tatic’s Stone, trans.). Today we believe that this name is of a recent origin, because the surrounding peaks of the mountains bear names like Peralo, Peren, and so on, which, according to linguists, basically have the root “per” that in the language of the Indo-European peoples meant stone.
It is interesting to note that, according to some legends narrated by the peasants, long time ago a lot of horses used to be raised in this region, while many of the inhabitants used to be skilled horsemen. According to some claims, a large part of the elite cavalry of the great Alexander of Macedonia was composed of inhabitants from this region and they had saved the life of the great military leader several times. There are written testimonies about these events in history.
In the broader region a rising number of archaeological sites from the Roman and the broader ancient period have been registered, as well as a large number of sites of the Iron, the Bronze, and the Neolithic ages. This means that the entire region has a long history of at least 7,000 years full of important dwellings, holy places, events, and personalities.
KOKINO AS A HOLY MOUNTAIN
According to historic and archaeological findings, the valley of the Pcinja River as a natural corridor in the central part of the Balkan Peninsula had a great importance in the far past as relates people’s migration and war campaigns that moved to the north-south. In a visit to this region, on the left side of the Pcinja River, you can easily spot an unusual shape on the Tatikev Kamen Mountain Peak that is dominating over the eastern horizon. Today, this is an easily accessible region because at the footing of the mountain peak there is a narrow, but asphalted road. However, even from this vicinity you cannot yet spot the archaeological site and ancient observatory, but only the rocks surrounding the site and hiding it from the eyes of the curious for a long period of time.
The analysis of the geologists have shown that the mountain is actually a neo-volcanic hill. This means that in the far geological past the so-called andesite rocks rose on this place out of the hot lava. The characteristic of these rocks is that they crack in a vertical and horizontal direction when cooled down, because of which they have formed a wall of vertical rocks with an impressive appearance around the peak where the site is located.
It is exactly this characteristic appearance that has greatly contributed for the place to preserve its looks and contents created by the ancient inhabitants in the region 3,800 years ago. The ethno-astronomic analysis of the population in Macedonia showed that in the past the people from this region considered these places devil’s places or places where fairies gathered and they evaded visiting them, they even avoided to talk about their existence.
The characteristic appearance and the natural cracks of the andesite rocks made it possible for the prehistoric inhabitants from the region to shape, in a relatively easy way, the structures used as a mountainous holy place, as well as the elements of the megalith observatory situated on two rocky platforms.
The archaeological researches of the site started in 2001 and on the outset of the excavations it became evident that this was one of the richest archaeological sites from the Bronze Age in the Republic of Macedonia.
The systematic archaeological excavations that continued in the following years, and that are still going on, discovered a large quantity of archaeological material, first of all fragments of pottery, like: larger and smaller pottery, large biconic amphora-like pottery, various food cooking pots (Fig 4), various types of cups and balance-like pottery, stone axes, manual mills for grinding wheat
, pyramidal weights, and so on. The excavation of a mould for smelting bronze axes (Fig. 8)
and pendants (Fig. 9) was of special importance because it was found in Macedonia, but also in the region at large, for the first time. The forms of pottery chronologically belong to the entire period of the Bronze Age in the Republic of Macedonia, and the earliest findings date from the period of the Bronze Age (19th – 17th century B. C.) , while pottery from the late Bronze Age (14th – 11th century B. C.) are dominating. It is monochromic pottery that can be found in various types on a broader central-Balkan, south-Thracian, and Macedonian space, with elements of a local evolution. Its closest parallels are in the pottery of the same period in historic settlements from central and low Povardarie (Vardar valley, trans.), and in the period of the late Bronze Age also in the pottery of the cultural groups in the valley of Juzna (South, trans.) the Morava River.
The latest researches and discovered artifacts showed that the site had been inhabited in the 7th century B. C., which prolongs its use to over 1,200 years. This is exactly why on the site, but also in the larger region, great quantity of fragmented pottery is found.
Many nations believe that climbing a mountain symbolizes the life of a man. Looking from the footing of the mountain, it has the symbol of a world’s axis, or an axis around which the whole universe is spinning. Looking from the peak of the mountain, it has the symbol of the center of the world and going back to the primordial rules of the creation of the world. This is why the peak of the holy mountain is often equalized with the umbilicus of the world.
The Macedonian people also has legends about the existence of these mythical and holy mountains. In all the villages of Macedonia there is the belief that the fate of each person is predicted on the third night after his/her birth by Three Fates. So, the predicted fate can be only changed with the help of the Sun. However, in order to get to the Sun, the person must wear iron sandals and take an iron stick and walk for a long time and very far away to get to the peak of a mythical mountain where the Sun lives with its mother. This is why there are so many legends in Macedonia narrating the meeting of people with God - Sun on the peak of the mythical mountain. With the help of the mother of the Sun the people manage to approach the Sun that hears them out and helps them solve their problems. This means that the admiration for the Sun in these regions has been present since prehistoric era up-to-date and the mountain near the village of Kokino had the role of this mythical mountain in the past.
Several topographical characteristics of the site like good visibility from the highest part of the hill, which is reached along a broader accessible path bathed by sun, indicate its use as a holy mountain where numerous rituals were taking place connected with the belief of the prehistoric inhabitants that the rocky mountainous peak was the place where the gods were and where communication with them was possible.
One of the mountainous rituals, for which there are archaeological traces on the eastern part of the highest part of the site, was associated with the fertility cult. Namely, fragments of pottery in several cracked places in the rocks have been discovered, sometimes fully formed, approximately round on the upper part. Small holes formed in this way were covered by earth and fine stones after the pottery had been deposited in them. The essence of the cult is in perceiving the rocky mountainous peak as the body of the Great Mother Goddess, while the cracks in the rocks, the holes, as her tomb. The ritual holes have the role of the place where presents were put in the tomb of the Great Mother Goddess. Probably different seeds from plants that they believed the Great Mother Goddess would fertilize were placed in the pottery from plants believing that this would guarantee better harvest in the following year.
These archaeological findings only confirm the role of the earth in the culture of the population in the region at the time of the Bronze Age, which is in conformity with the development of the other cultures in the world. All the peoples believed in the great role of the earth. The earth is the opposite of the sky. The earth symbolizes the female, and the sky the male principle in the creation of the world. Throughout the world there is the belief that the earth is the universal substance of which the entire world has been created, including the plants, the animals, and the people, So, it has the role of the Great Mother as the one giving birth to everything that exists. It can be said that since the oldest times the earth has been respected as a goddess and a mother. We can give the example of the custom that can still be observed in Macedonian villages. If a peasant insults the earth out of carelessness, he bows three times and kisses the earth saying “Forgive me earth, my dear mother”. He does this because he fears that when he dies the earth will throw his bones out and will not accept them in its tomb.
The existence of ritual holes is an important characteristic for the whole site and it represents an important contribution to science. The existence of such holes in many cases so far has been just assumed, but here they have been confirmed. It is very important to say that such ritual holes have also been discovered in the Pelince archaeological site that is 7-8 kilometers to the north-west of Kokino, originating from the same period as the Kokino Megalith Observatory. According to the excavated pottery, we can say that the rituals connected with the Great Mother Goddess were preformed here around 1,900 B. C., which was confirmed with the help of astronomic measurements.
The second ritual that was most probably practiced on the top of the Mountain was of an expressively solar character. For this ritual, the ancient inhabitants had made special places in the rocks on the site on both the platforms. On the lower platform on the site specially elaborated stone seats known as thrones were dominating. They bore this name because the throne symbolizes power, and gods were believed to be sitting on these thrones on the top of the Holy Mountain. This is why this place is one of the sacred places on the site. On only one throne, on a strictly defined day, only the ruler was allowed to sit. The thrones are made exactly in the north-south direction, so the face of the person sitting on one of the thrones is turned to the eastern horizon and watching the events taking place there. On this horizon, on the peak of the Mountain, there is a specially made marker that is located just immediately under the highest elevation of the site. The ritual was taking place in the middle of the summer (today on the last day of July) when the Sun rises exactly on the opening of the stone marker (Fig. 13).
The marker is made with great accuracy, so that the distance of its outer vertical sides fully correspond with the diameter of the Sun when looking from the second throne. As the marker was probably covered in the past, there was the effect of a strong sunbeam that was passing over the upper, eastern platform of the site with the shape of a larger room, in which the participants in the ritual were most probably gathered. In order for the sunbeam to fall on one of the thrones, the people had constructed a special trench (cut) in the vertical rock that separated the lower from the upper platform on the site.
On the ritual day, the sunbeam passed exactly by the right edge of the trench and only fell on the second throne. The fact that the sunbeam lit only one of the participants in the ceremony, who was sitting on one of the thrones, probably surrounded by tribal eminent persons, indicated his special role in it. This was probably the tribal chief to who the divine Sun transferred its legitimacy and authority in the ritual. This is one of the most important rituals on the mountain sacred places dedicated to the unification of the heavenly divinity with the Great Mother Goddess, a unification that guaranteed a new cycle of nature’s renewal.
The end of July is the time when the harvest was ending, and therefore this ritual was probably connected with the celebration of the end of the harvest. According to the beliefs of the people of that time, at the moment the ruler was lit, he was united with the Sun - God and that was a guarantee for the success of the following year’s harvest, for a good and peaceful life. Archaeological findings in the room situated on the upper platform just under the stone marker where the Sun appeared on the ritual day is a testimony for this. At this place in 2001 archaeological researches were done for the first time and in this place, with an area of 100 meters squared about 1,000 kilograms of pottery from the Bronze Age were excavated, and what is particularly interesting, about twenty manual mills for wheat were excavated from this place as well. So, we can be quite sure when we say that on this site some rituals connected with the harvesting day used to be performed.
KOKINO AS AN ANCIENT OBSERVATORY
The Kokino Megalith Observatory is located on two platforms and each has its characteristic contents. The length of the Observatory is about 90 meters, and the width about 15 meters.
The thrones are the most impressive content that is spotted on the location at first sight. As we already said, they are made in such a way as to be turned to the north-south direction, so the person sitting on the throne is oriented towards the east and towards the eastern horizon. This is why the archeologists came to the idea that this was the place from where the celestial bodies rising on the horizon were observed. However, astronomic measurements and analyses demonstrated that these thrones are a sacred and ritual place and are not connected with astronomic observations.
In order to give an answer to the question why this place is an ancient observatory, we must recall to the basic characteristics of the movements of the Sun and the Moon. In the course of a calendar year, the Sun and the full Moon rise on different places on the horizon. In this, there are so-called ultimate points of the rising on the horizon. This means that in winter, when the day is the shortest, or on the winter solstice (22 December) the Sun rises in the most south on the horizon. Moreover, it goes to the north every day and on vernal equinox (21 March) the Sun rises exactly in the East. The Sun continues to move to the north, the length of the day is growing, and on the longest day (21 June) the Sun rises in the most north of the horizon. Furthermore, the Sun goes back and on autumnal equinox (23 September) it again rises exactly in the east, while on 22 December it completes the cycle of rising on the point of the winter solstice. Every cautious observer of the Sun can easily see this and mark the places of the rising of the Sun in the days of winter solstice, the vernal and autumnal equinox, and the summer longest day.
Such stone markers have been discovered at the Kokino Megalith Observatory, where the marker of the summer longest day is well preserved, the marker of the vernal and autumnal equinox is a little damaged, while the severest damage is suffered by the marker of the winter solstice. These damages are most probably due to disastrous earthquakes. It is a known fact that the territory of Macedonia is inflicted by a disastrous earthquake approximately every 500 years.
The Moon has a somewhat more complicated movement and it is quite difficult to mark the places where the full Moon rises on the horizon. The simplest thing to say is that during winter it moves on the sky on places where the Sun moves during summer, and in summer it moves on places where the Sun moves in winter. This is why there must be two stone markers around the markers of the winter longest day and the winter solstice on the left and on the right that will mark the places where the full Moon rises in positions that are characteristic for it. These stone markers also exist on the space of the ancient Observatory. In order for a place to be an observatory another very important condition has to be fulfilled. All these seven markers must be observed from one place, or the lines that pass through the markers must cut on one point, which is actually the central point of the observatory and this was also identified on the site.
We should here point out another very important fact. According to the astronomic laws, the places where the full Moon rises are repeated every 18.6 years. If someone is to understand that these are really periodical movements, at least 40 years of continual observation of the rising of the full Moon is necessary. If we also know that the average man’s life at that time was 40 years, it is quite clear that several generations of people stood on the central position of the observatory and were dedicated to the observation of the rising of the Sun and the Moon. All these facts indicate that the site was indeed an ancient observatory.
The archaeological and astronomic analysis helped define precisely also the time when the stone markers were constructed marking the places where the Sun and the Moon rise on the horizon. The analysis showed that the stone markers were built in the decades around 1800 B. C., which means that the Kokino Megalith Observatory is at least 3800 years old. Documented photos also prove that this was about marking the places of the rising of the Sun over the stone marker (Fig. 19)
on the longest summer day. Because of the precession of the earth axis of rotation, today the Sun rises a little lower and a little more to the left of the marker, but this is exactly the proof about the accuracy of the positioned stone marker, because these deviations are also envisaged in the exact astronomic analysis.
The American space agency NASA approved these facts and in 2005 it ranked the Kokino Megalith Observatory on the fourth place on the list of ancient observatories in the world..
Ancient observatories used to have a very important role in organizing the life of the community. The observatories were used for making a calendar that had a double purpose. On the one hand it helped understand the natural cycle of the vegetable and animal kingdoms. By simply setting fire on the top of the observatory that is dominating in a circle of about 30 kilometers the people were informed that the day for starting ploughing, seeding, harvesting, taking cattle out for pastry had come. In this, the observatory had the key role in increasing the harvest in the farming and improving the security and the quality of the life of the community. Via a continual follow-up of the movement of the Sun and the Moon, the ancient observers could also define the days for the rituals and ceremonies. So, the calendar made on the observatory helped organizing the religious life of the community as well. The mentioned rituals connected with the Great Mother Goddess, the Sun - God, and the day of the harvest are apparently just a part of the rich spectrum of ceremonies and rituals performed on the Kokino Megalith Observatory. They are the testimony of a developed and well founded cosmogony created in the imagination of the inhabitants who lived on this space at the time marked as the Bronze Age in the development of human civilization.
Scientific researches from the area of archaeology and astronomy have not been completed and therefore we can expect new surprises in the future that can only increase the scientific value and attractiveness of this site.
Jovica Stankovski, Ph.D. is an archaeologist and director of the National Museum in Kumanovo, Republic of Macedonia. Mr. Gjore Cenev is an astrophysicist and editor of the astronomical program and Planetarium at the Youth Cultural Center in Skopje, Republic of Macedonia.