Archaeo-astronomical Site Kokino

Date of Submission: 30/01/2009
Criteria: (i)(ii)(iii)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Cultural Heritage Protection Office
State, Province or Region:
Staro Nagorichane
Ref.: 5413
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The archaeo-astronomical site, the megalithic observatory "Kokino" is located in the north-eastern part of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, at 19km to the northeast of the town Kumanovo and in the vicinity of the village Kokino. Administratively it belongs to the municipality Staro Nagorichane. It comprises an area with a surface of 100m in the direction east-west and 50m in the direction north-south, at the peak of the imposing rocky hill called Tatichev kamen. It is at an elevation of 1013 m.

The hill had been formed from volcanic rocks. It has a conical form with a saddle at the top and it belongs to the volcanic area Kratovo-Zletovo.  The volcanic cone, the lateral secondary parasite effusions and volcanic neck (petrified lava in the lower volcanic channel) are preserved from the extinct volcano. The erupted lava is of an intermediate character with an andesitic composition, with clearly columnar (prismatic) emission and accentuated cracks.

The natural predisposition of these andesite rocks to crack vertically and horizontally caused forming of almost ideal cubic rock blocks that could be easily shaped and wisely used by the prehistoric dwellers as areas/positions for observing the movement of the Sun and the Moon and for performing religious rites.

All crucial features of the ancient observatory are situated at two platforms, an upper and a lower one, at an elevation difference of 19m. The shapes of four stone seats ("thrones") placed in a row dominate the lower, western side. They are oriented in the direction north-south, thus enabling the one seating on the throne to observe the apparitions on the upper platform, while the tops of the rocks had the role of an eastern horizon. According to the archaeo-astronomical analysis, the main role of the thrones was the performing of the bonding ritual of the Sun God with his "representative" on Earth - the ruler, who sat on one of the thrones (the second one) during the ritual. A testimony for that is the distinct stone block with a separate marker cutting on its top, placed right under the highest elevation of the site. The ritual was performed in mid-summer (today in the last day of July) when the Sun rises exactly in the opening of the stone marker. The marker cutting was made with great precision, in such a way that the distance of its external vertical sides fully corresponds with the diameter of the Sun, when observed from the second throne. In order to enable the sun ray to fall on one of the thrones, the people had made a separate trench (incision) in the vertical rock that separates the upper from the lower platform of the site. In the day of the ritual the sun ray passes exactly by the right edge of the trench and falls only on the second throne, i.e. on the place where the most powerful member of the community sat. The day when the rite was performed corresponded with the time of the ending of the harvest - the end of the annual cycle of the plants, and in the same time end of the energy of the ruler. By reuniting with the Sun God, through the light that fell on its face during the ritual ceremony, the energy and the power of the ruler were renewed. This meant hope for a peaceful life for the community and rich crops in the year to come. Twenty hand grinders found in the proximity of the room at the base of the ritual mark are a testimony for the performing of the rite that marked the end of the harvest.

The central space of the ancient observatory was to the south-west from the thrones. It was used for observing the eastern horizon. All nine marker cuttings at the eastern horizon used by the ancient "astronomers" for daily marking of the rising of the Sun and the Moon can be seen from here. Three of the marker cuttings were intended to mark the rising of the Sun in the day of the summer solstice, the autumn and the spring equinox and the winter solstice. The six remaining marker cuttings marked the spots of the rising of the full Moon in the days when it has the smallest and the biggest declination during winter and summer. The two marker cuttings that were used for measuring the length of the lunar months can be seen from here. They were utilized for the making of a calendar for a periodic cycle of 19 lunar years.

In the "Kokino" calendar 12 lunar years contained 12 lunar months each. Six of them were winter months of 29 days and six summer months of 30 days. The remaining 7 lunar years contained 13 lunar months: six winter months of 29 days and seven summer months of 30 days. These „excessive" lunar years were at each 2nd, 5th, 8th, 10th, 13th, 16th and 18th year in a period of 19 years.

The making of the calendar was one of the basic functions of the megalithic observatory "Kokino". Most probably, the announcement for the days when the most important events start was made by lighting fire on the mountain top located behind the thrones. This spot opens a view in a radius of more than 30km, and hence the fire could be seen by the inhabitants of all surrounding places.     

The archaeological investigations at this area unearthed of one of the richest Bronze Age sites in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Its boundaries are much wider than the boundaries of the ancient observatory that is situated at the mountain top. The observatory has a surface of 0,5 hectares, while the archaeological site spreads on a surface of about 30 hectares. The investigated area is quite small, having in mind that there have been continuous archaeological investigations for only couple of years (since 2001).

The largely abundant archaeological movable material is comprised of fragments of ceramic vessels, whose shapes (versions of cooking vessels, many types of cups, kantharoses), determine the period of Bronze Age in Macedonia. The earliest ones date in Early Bronze Age (19th - 17th century BC), while the ones from Late Bronze Age (14th - 11th century BC) prevail. It is monochromatic ceramic encountered in different versions in the wider Central Balkan and South Thracian area, but with elements of local evolution. Especially significant is the mould for casting bronze axes and a pendant, for the first time discovered in Macedonia, but also in the wider region.

The archaeological artefacts from the eastern side of the highest part of the site also speak of one of the mountain rites related with the fertility cult. Namely, fragments of vessels were discovered in several natural cracks on the rocks, sometimes remodelled in almost circular form in the upper part. The small pits formed this way were closed with earth and small stones upon the introducing of the vessels filled with offerings. The essence of the cult is in the belief that the rocky mountain top is the body of the Great Goddess Mother and the cracks in the rocks - the openings in her womb.

A settlement that existed from the prehistoric period (Bronze Age) until the protohistoric period (the passage to Iron Age and Iron Age), i.e. from 19th to 7th century BC was formed at the southeast slope of the hill. Its precise location and more complete identification will be determined by the continuous archaeological investigations.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The megalithic observatory "Kokino" represents a unique outstandingly well preserved site from Bronze Age in South East Europe, testimony for the human creative genius in the usage of a specific natural resource for satisfying the vital needs and beliefs. It is significant as:

  • Ancient observatory and
  • Holy mountain.

The ancient observatory "Kokino" represents an exceptionally well structured and organized area on the two hanging platforms united in the performing of their joint function: observing the movement of the Sun and the Moon and marking of the extreme positions. The existence of the three stone marker cuttings for marking the spots of the rising of the Sun in the days of the summer solstice, the winter solstice, the spring and autumn equinox, unarguably shows that Bronze Age people were familiar with the movement of the Sun in the course of the year. The four precise marker cuttings for marking the spots of the rising of the full Moon on the eastern horizon, when it has a maximum and minimum declination in winter and summer, also confirm that the ancient observers of the sky above "Kokino" knew about the cycle in a period of 19 years when the full Moon rises at the same spot in the same day of the calendar. In the same time, the megalithic observatory "Kokino" has two marker cuttings, that so far are the only ones in the world, and which measured the length of the lunar months and made the lunar calendar. This represents the peak of the human creative thought from that time. The calendar in "Kokino" is greatly in accordance with the tropical year, i.e. with the vegetation cycles. For the inhabitants from this age it meant precise dating of the beginning and the end of farming and stock-breeding, thus undertaking activities for good crops and offspring that provided peaceful and stabile life for the community.

Especially significant is the stone block with a separate marker cutting on its top. It was made for ritual function with an explicit solar character. In mid summer (end of July) a sun ray from the sunrise that penetrated through the opening of the stone marker cutting and passed by the right edge of the artificially formed trench, illuminated the ruler alone, who set on one of the four stone thrones, made especially for rite needs. The illumination of the face of the ruler signified ritual union with the Sun God and returning/renewing of his ruling power.

The megalithic observatory "Kokino" represents an original and integral complex formed 3900 years ago. Its role as a distinctly shaped space for the most important rites in the life of the people from that time and as a place where the lunar calendar was made and applied, speaks of the creative potential and the organization level of the early farmers community on the territory of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, but also wider in the Balkans. The artefacts that had been discovered so far show an occupancy continuity of at least 1200 years in the period between the 19th and the 7th century BC.

The dominant location and the monumental appearance of the stone seats (thrones), the distinctly made stone markers, trenches, access paths and formed rite spaces - are a testimony of one original monumental art expressed through the skill of designing a space in a rocky area.

The archaeological excavations had additionally shed light on the performing of two important rituals in the life of Bronze Age people in this area. The excavation of the ritual pits filled with offerings vessels on the eastern slopes of the mountain, confirmed the existence of the rites connected with the fertility of the land, i.e. the cult devotion of the Great Goddess Mother. Along with the specific spatial organization and the shaping of certain stone forms that served for the performing of the rites for the end of harvest and for the ritual bonding of the ruler with the Sun God, speak of the role of this site as a holy mountain.

The determining of the age of the observatory, the homogeneity of the structure, the manner of spatial shaping and its proven purpose, are a testimony of the fact that it is an exceptional and rare, and according to many features - unique site of the so-called megalithic culture in the world.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The scientific methods of, mainly, two sciences: astronomy and archaeology are applied in the analysis of the values of the site "Kokino". The precise measurements and the application of the astronomic methods in the argumentation and documentation of the positions of the marker cuttings for the rising of the Sun and the Moon in astronomically precisely determined time, do not allow any doubt for the authenticity of the marker cuttings and their purpose, as well as for the overall design of the observatory.

The great number of artefacts showing integrity in the forms, the material and the production manner also confirm their authenticity. The most important ones are exhibited in the National Institution - Museum Kumanovo.

The archaeo-astronomical site is preserved in its original condition. The permanent damaging occurs due to natural factors, but this does not undermine its integrity. The dominant position that offers a view towards other archaeological sites (settlements of Neolith and Bronze Age) on the surrounding hills, confirms the crucial role of this site in the life of the prehistoric dwellers from these areas.

Protection status :

For reasons of securing the features of the site Kokino, where the investigations started in 2001, it had received the status of a property under temporary protection, according to a Decision (nr. 08-1935/6 of 13.11.2008) issued by the Cultural Heritage Protection Office, a body within the Ministry of Culture, and based on the Law on Protection of Cultural Heritage for the category of immovable cultural property - cultural landscape. In this regard, beside the general information on the location of the site and the evaluation of the features of the site, its boundaries, contact zones and the regime of protection are preliminary determined. In the meantime, a procedure for gathering and analysing the data for obtaining a protection status of highest rank was initiated and it has to be finalized within the legally determined period  of one year. In this way, the site/cultural landscape "Kokino" will be proclaimed protected property of highest category - cultural heritage of especial significance with subcategory - exceptional significance. Having in mind that there already are sufficient data that confirm the exceptional significance of this site (as an integral archaeo-astronomical property / cultural landscape), from protection aspect, the researchers will have to concentrate on the precise determination of the boundaries of the property and the measures of the protection regime in the separate zone for permanent securing of the site and its immediate surrounding from unlawful actions and also for its proper presentation and popularization.

A draft Management Plan (Kumanovo, 2008) was prepared for the site Kokino. It was commissioned and adopted by the National Institution Museum Kumanovo and it will become a strategic document of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, in accordance with the information for the rest of the legal procedure.

Comparison with other similar properties

The United States Space Agency (NASA) recognized the megalithic observatory "Kokino" as a significant heritage of this type in its "Timeless knowledge" project in 2005. "Kokino" is listed side by side with ancient observatories as Stonehenge (Great Britain), Abu Simbel (Egypt), Angkor Wat (Cambodia), Machu Picchu (Peru) etc.