Just in time for this year’s summer solstice and six months ahead of the winter solstice, a team of archeologists announced the discovery of a 4,000-year-old sanctuary composed of burial mounds and ditches in the central Netherlands. The sanctuary is about 45 miles east of Rotterdam, in the town of Tiel.
The team believes it may have been built to align with the sun on the solstices, similar to southern England’s most famous stone circle, Stonehenge. The main burial mound is roughly 65 feet in diameter, and its passages are lined up to serve as a solar calendar. The calendar was to determine events such as religious festivals and harvest days, according to the discovery team.
Human skulls, valuables such as a bronze spearhead, and offerings—including animal skeletons—have been found at various locations where the sun shone through the openings during the longest and shortest days of the year, according to the municipality. The burial mound contained the remains of roughly 60 men, women, and children. The burial sites were likely used for 800 years, according to the team.
“What a spectacular archaeological discovery! Archaeologists have found a 4,000-year-old religious sanctuary on an industrial site,” officials from the town of Tiel wrote on their Facebook page. “This is the first time a site like this has been discovered in the Netherlands.”
Digging and excavations began in this “open-air sanctuary” in 2017, and the team found items dating to the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Roman Empire, and the Middle Ages over the past six years.
By examining the differences in the color and composition of the clay around it, scientists located three burial mounds a few miles from the Waal River. Within one of the graves, the team found a woman buried with a glass bead from present-day Iraq (Mesopotamia). This bead is the oldest ever found in the Netherlands, and the team says it proves people from this time were in contact with people who lived over 3,000 miles away.
“Glass was not made here, so the bead must have been a spectacular item as for people then it was an unknown material,” University of Groningen archaeology professor Stijn Arnoldussen said in a statement to the AFP. “Things were already being exchanged in those times. The bead may have been above ground for hundreds of years before it reached Tiel, but of course, it didn’t have to be.”
Some of these discoveries will be featured in a local museum in Tiel and in the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities at a later date.