In 1991 at Goseck in the administrative district of Weissenfels, archaeologists working with aerial images uncovered another highlight of astronomical history: a 7,000-year-old solar observatory. The find is the oldest known site of its kind in Europe, predating England's hallowed Stonehenge by some 3,000 years. It has caused a worldwide archaeological sensation.
A good decade after its discovery, in 2002, two years of excavation work began at the Neolithic ring-ditch site. On 21 December 2005, the date of the winter solstice, the reconstructed observatory opened to great media and public interest with a spectacular fire show.
The site is encompassed by a ring of mounded earth and, just inside this, a ring-ditch tracing a near-circle about 75m in diameter. Within these earthworks, 1,675 oak logs over three metres in length are sunken into the ground to form a double palisade. From the outside, the palisade rings block the view into the interior. As seen from within, they establish a regular horizon line. Radially aligned breaks in the concentric earthen and palisade rings are marked by elaborate gates at northern, southeastern and southwestern points of the circle.
From the centre of the site, the sun can be observed on the longest night of the year setting in the southwestern gate and rising the following morning in the southeastern gate. This location presumably served public gatherings, cultic ceremonies, trials and fertility rites. It is even likely that ritual human sacrifices were made here.
Twice annually the municipality of Goseck joins the Gosecker Sonnenobservatorium e.V. – an organisation to promote archaeology in the Goseck region – in hosting a public festival at the ring-ditch site. These celebrations take place on 21 December and 21 June, the dates of the winter and summer solstices. They offer the opportunity to experience at close hand the sun-worship rites of our distant ancestors. The site is freely accessible and open to the public year-round. It is recommended that visitors begin their explorations of Goseck with a stop at the Infopoint located in Goseck Castle. The Infopoint personnel also offer guided group tours of the solar observatory throughout the year. For details, please see the following page.