Article by Justin Norris
Thousands of sacred sites aligned to the sun and stars exist all over the world. They are the work of a pre-historic civilization, which once spread widely across the globe. This civilization practiced a religion that reverenced the sun and stars, which is why it built so many sacred places aligning to important solar and astronomical events.
Many of these sites are massive and sophisticated in design, requiring advanced knowledge of engineering, mathematics, and astronomy to construct. A few are well-known, but many remain in obscurity, familiar only to local inhabitants or swallowed up by earth or jungle.
By studying these ancient sites and even visiting them in person, it’s possible to uncover the knowledge and spiritual wisdom they contain. Because this knowledge is timeless, it’s also possible to continue to use these sites just as the ancients did—as sacred places for celebrating important times of the year, such as the solstices and equinoxes.
- Types of Sacred Sites
- How these Sites Align to the Sun and Stars
- What were these ancient sites for?
- Who built these sites?
- Why study ancient sacred sites today?
- How to Experience the Alignments of Ancient Sites during a Solar Event
- Further Research on Ancient Sites
- Author Credits
Types of Sacred Sites
Many of the ancient sites that have survived to the present are made of stone, because of its inherent durability. Some have survived for at least 12,000 years, and possibly far longer, outlasting earthquakes and the ravages of time. Among these sites, many are constructed using megaliths — large stones weighing dozens or even several hundred tons. These megaliths can be placed individually or in arrangements with others, where they are joined without mortar. How these stones were quarried, lifted, transported, and erected is a mystery many scientists and construction engineers today still struggle to understand.
Other cultures used different approaches to construct sacred spaces, such as piled stones, carved or sculpted edifices, or earthen mounds. Some involve exquisite artwork and the incorporation of sacred symbols reflective of the site’s purpose.
The sections below describe some of the most common types of sacred monuments found around the world. (Click the thumbnails to see larger example images for each of the types.)
Menhirs are large standing stones. There are tens of thousands of these across Europe and the British Isles. They are also known as monoliths. Some are carved with symbols or inscriptions and can also be called steles.
Stone CirclesStone circles are circular arrangement of megaliths, often with specific solar and stellar alignments. There appear across the world, with the most well-known being Stonehenge. Some of its blocks weigh up to 50 tons.
DolmensThese are megalithic structures comprised of vertical standing stones topped with a horizontal capstone to create an enclosure. The shape is reminiscent of a table. They are found in the thousands throughout the world including Europe, Russia, Britain, and North America.
Chambered cairns are stone chambers over which stones were stacked to form a cairn. These cairns are also often covered by earth, forming grassy mounds in the landscape. The appear throughout the British Isles such as Maeshowe in Scotland or Newgrange in Ireland.
Earth MoundsThere are many huge human-made mounds and sites formed from sculpted earth. These sometimes take the form of circular henges or can be elaborate zoomorphic shapes, such as the Serpent Mound in Ohio, USA.
StatuesSome cultures created anthropomorphic statues with solar alignments, such as the Moai of Easter Island. Statues were also used in the construction of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, with the top stones of the standing megaliths appearing to represent a head and hands carved across the torso in the same manner as the statues on Easter Island.
In some cases, entire ancient cities were created with an apparent spiritual plan in mind, based around solar alignments, such as Machu Picchu in Peru or Petra in Jordan.
TemplesThere are many temples aligning to the sun and stars. Their designs, relief carvings, and ornamentation often contains rich symbolism and imagery related to the worship of the sun. Angkor Wat in Cambodia is a prime example; its murals depict the Hindu myth of the “Churning of the Milky Ocean,” it aligns to both the equinoxes and to the constellation Draco, and its design contains sophisticated numerological references to astronomy, such as the precession of the equinoxes.
PyramidsPyramids are found around the world. The pyramid complex at Giza contains some of the most well-known examples, but pyramids exist across South America and Mexico, Europe (for example, the Bosnian pyramids at Visoko), and Asia. Many of these massive structures are aligned to solar and stellar phenomena and contain in their dimensions advanced knowledge about geography, astronomy, and physics.
GeoglyphsGeoglyphs are large designs inscribed upon the ground, either by placing some material to form a line, or removing material to expose the surface underneath. The Nazca Lines in Peru are some of the most colossal examples surviving to the present day. These enormous zoomorphic designs are only fully visible from the air, leaving a mystery about how they were constructed.
Medicine WheelThe so-called “medicine wheel” is frequently found in North America and is constructed by piling up smaller rocks into a circular shape, with spokes made of more piled rocks connecting to a central cairn. These can have very sophisticated alignments that track a variety of astronomical phenomena and even integrate into a broader sacred landscape, as with the Majorville Medicine Wheel in Alberta, Canada.
Petrogylphs and Heliolithic Animations
Petroglyphs are images carved into natural rock surfaces. They appear around the world, and research has discovered that some align to important solar events. At these times, the sun creates incredible animations across the rock surface, highlighting and contributing to the meaning of the figures. For example, the Pathfinder rock art in Picture Canyon, Colorado, depicts a woman being impregnated by the sun at the equinox, and the Swansea rock art site in California depicts a serpent eating the sun. Heliolithic animations also occur at Fajda Butte in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.
Rock-Cut MonumentsIn some cases, entire monuments are cut into living rock. This technique involves excavating and cutting rock out to leave behind the desired structure, as opposed to putting rocks in place to build it. Some of the monuments produced in this manner are breathtaking, such as the Ajanta Caves in India, which feature alignments on both the winter solistice and summer solstice. The city of Petra (mentioned above) is another example of a rock-cut site.
How these Sites Align to the Sun and StarsOne of the most significant features of these ancient sites is their alignment with solar and stellar phenomena.
Important alignments often occur at the solstices and equinoxes. Many sites are constructed so that the sun will rise, set, or reach its zenith (maximum height) in alignment with a certain part of the monument at these special times of the year.
For example, at Stonehenge the rising sun at the summer solstice shines directly into the center of the altar, between two heel stones, and the sun at its zenith shines directly overhead the monument. At Giza in Egypt, during the spring Equinox, the sun sets directly between the two largest pyramids and appears to crown the sphinx. Similarly at the spring equinox, the sun climbs and crowns the tallest tower at the temple of Angkor Wat.Other sites are designed so the sun will enter the monument and illuminate it. At the winter solstice, the rising sun enters a cross-shaped chamber within the monument at Newgrange, illuminating it with light. At the summer solstice sunrise, a similar effect occurs at the Ajanta Caves in India, where the sun penetrates a particular cave and shines directly on a statue of the ascending Buddha.
Many sites are also aligned to important stars, frequently the constellation Orion or the star Sirius. In some cases a group of structures can act as a virtual map of the heavens, with the entire site arranged to reflect on the earth a particular constellation or set of cosmic features. Both the Giza complex and the enormous complex at Angkor in Cambodia were designed in this way.
Incredibly, many of these sites also seem designed to align with each other across huge distances spanning continents. A line can be drawn connecting Machu Picchu and the Nazca lines in Peru, Easter Island, Angkor wat in Cambodia, Persepolis in modern-day Iran, Mohenjo Daro in India, Petra in modern-day Jordan, and the Great Pyramids in Egypt, forming a circle on the globe within a margin of error of less than one tenth of one degree of latitude.17 This suggests a overarching design vision and a coordinated building effort that is truly global in scope.
What were these ancient sites for?
There is much yet to uncover about the function of these ancient sites. What we do know suggests that they served multiple connected purposes.
Venues for Sun Celebrations
Many sites would have been used in religious ceremonies and celebrations of the sun. In some cases, sites appear to have been used and developed continuously for thousands of years.
For example, Stonehenge is one prominent site oriented to the summer solstice that appears designed for sun celebrations on a large scale. Researchers have found evidence indicating that up to 4,000 people may have gathered there at a time.18 Sites like Stonehenge may have been important destinations of pilgrimage for peoples living in the area, and may have hosted multi-day celebrations around these special times of the year.
These sun celebrations are an indicator of an ancient religion of the sun uniting the peoples that built these sites. The remnants of this religion also later influenced many of the descendant cultures that inherited and continued to use them.
The ancient practitioners of the religion of the sun revered the sun as both the source of physical and spiritual life and saw in its yearly cycles a representation of a process of spiritual transformation that each person can experience.
In this way the celebration of solstices and equinoxes holds deep significance, both as a way to connect with cosmic forces and as time for reflection on one’s personal spiritual journey. This remains true for modern practitioners of the religion of the sun just as it was for those in ancient times.More about the Religion of the Sun
Repositories of Knowledge
Researchers believe that sacred sites also acted as repositories of knowledge and places of learning for ancient people. This knowledge was frequently encoded into the monuments themselves, using dimensions, angles, alignments, and other properties to contain wisdom about mathematics, geography, astronomy, physics, and other sciences.
In remote antiquity, there was a very mobilized group of cousin nations who travelled across the entire globe and wherever they settled long term they built code-bearing complexes to preserve and teach their sciences. To ensure that profound scientific knowledge would not be lost, they erected precisely positioned pyramid and hump mounds, concentric ring mounds, geometric earth embankments, henges […] etc. In each case the selfsame measurement standard, as well as length and angle codes on one site will duplicate that found on another, even a continent or two removed.
Ancient sites encoding this type of knowledge can be found around the world. For example, the Temple of Karnak in Egypt was developed over time in accordance with the Fibonacci sequence. Measurements of the Great Pyramid at Giza show a knowledge of Pi, the Golden Ratio, and the precession of the equinoxes.20 Precessional knowledge is similarly encoded into the design of the temple at Angkor Wat.
On the other side of the world, researchers at the site of Teotihuacan in Mexico have found advanced knowledge of the earth and cosmos encoded in its dimensions. For example, the dimensions of one section represent the circumference of the earth, at a scale of 1:100,000.21
These and many other examples suggest that ancient sites may have served as places of advanced learning, where students could receive both spiritual and scientific knowledge.
A Message to the AgesAnother function of these sites appears to have been to preserve this knowledge for posterity. Many sacred sites were designed to last through the ages, possibly as a way of sending a message to future generations of humanity. In this way, the knowledge of the religion of the sun as well as the presence of an advanced society in ancient pre-history could be discovered and known by cultures in the distant future.
A massive monument in stone or earth is one of the few mediums of communication that has a chance to withstand thousands of years of weathering and decay, preserving its message through the millennia. Some of the building techniques of these ancient monuments also possess a special ability to withstand the forces of nature over long periods of time, such as the use of very large but irregularly sized and shaped megaliths. This technique creates structures that are highly earthquake resistant and long lasting.
In addition to their ability to endure, the mode of communication used in sacred sites is also very well suited for conveying a message across cultural boundaries, because these sites leverage the universal languages of mathematics and astronomy. Although the spoken languages of the builders of Giza or Stonehenge have likely long vanished from the earth, those builders lived in a world governed by the same mathematical laws as ours, and they looked up at the same cosmos at night. Messages encoded in mathematics and astronomy can not only withstand the passage of time but also be interpreted by any future civilization that develops those sciences.
Finally, in at least one case, there is evidence of a site being deliberately buried—perhaps in order to preserve it for future discovery.
Göbekli Tepe is a large sacred complex in Turkey built of 20-ton megaliths, many of them intricately carved. It has been conclusively dated to approximately 12,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest known sites on the planet.Around 10,000 years ago, the entire site was purposefully concealed by backfilling it with dirt and debris.25 This action not only preserved the site for posterity but also has allowed it to be dated with relative precision, because the remains of later cultures were not able to become mixed with the site and obscure its antiquity.
Who built these sites?
A sea-faring civilization in remote antiquity practicing the religion of the sun spread its presence around the world, building sun-aligned monuments wherever they went.
By leaving behind a legacy of enormous monuments encoding sophisticated knowledge, this lost civilization of the sun has been able to make its presence known to us and to pass down its spiritual and scientific wisdom.
Its monumental sites—along with the similarities between languages across multiple continents, the common myths and symbols shared across cultures, and other archaeological remains spread across the planet—demonstrate that this civilization travelled far across the earth. They were peoples who understood the spiritual significance of the heavens and devoted themselves to the observation and celebration of the sun and stars.More about the Lost Civilization
Why study ancient sacred sites today?
Sacred sites may be ancient, but the knowledge they encode and celebrate is timeless. Because spiritual truths are ingrained in the cosmos—from the structure of a tiny atom to the shape of a spiral galaxy—the knowledge of this spirituality is ever-present, waiting to be rediscovered again and again in different epochs.Modern-day practitioners of this spirituality aim to manifest it into their daily lives through spiritual practices related to the religion of the sun and in celebrating the solstices and equinoxes, as this celebration recognizes how the journey of the sun through the year also connects with the personal spiritual journey of the individual.
Ancient peoples understood that a knowledge of the heavens and cosmos (the macrocosm) is directly related to the knowledge of ourselves (the microcosm). Those practicing the spirituality of the sun held that each person’s consciousness is part of a divine being, which we can uncover and connect with through an inner journey that is represented on a cosmic scale in the yearly cycles of the sun.
This connection between the spiritual forces of the cosmos and an individual’s inner spiritual journey is no different today, and ancient sites are still powerful places for sun celebrations, as they were in ancient times. Attending an excursion to a sacred site or visiting these places yourself can be a way to connect personally with the ancient wisdom and spirituality that is at their source.Excursions to Ancient Sites
How to Experience the Alignments of Ancient Sites during a Solar Event
There are many opportunities today to experience what it would have been like for ancient peoples to celebrate the solstices and equinoxes at sacred sites.
Our list of sacred sites by location and alignment contains a list of sites and the solar events they align to, which can help in planning a personal visit to one of these places.