“Roundels” : an example of prehistoric architecture in Europe

In September 2022, near Prague in the Czech Republic, archaeologists discovered the remains of a 7,000-year-old round structure, which is older than Stonehenge (Killgrove 2022). This type of circular building, commonly called a “roundel”, measures more than 50 meters in diameter. It is not the first time such remains have been excavated: the earliest roundel yet discovered, known as the Goseck Circle, was found in Germany in 1991 and measures 75 meters in diameter. A few hundreds of these types of structures have been discovered throughout Europe, especially in Central Europe where many farming communities gathered and built villages between 4900 B.C.E. and 4400 B.C.E, such as the people of the Stroked Pottery culture (Killgrove 2022).

This archaeological finding is representative of the progress of archaeological techniques over the past decades, with the popularization of drones and aerial photography. This type of archaeological survey is made up of two parts : first, data collection (drones are used to take aerial photographs of archaeological sites), and then data analysis (the images are analyzed and interpreted) (Renfrew 2018:70). In this case, from the sky, archaeologists observed that roundels consist of round ditches and concentric rings of holes, usually pierced by gates (Figure 1). Then, these features can be interpreted.

Figure 1: An aerial picture of the Prague roundel. (Institute of Archaeology of the Czech Academy of Sciences)

According to archaeologists and researchers, the true function of these roundels is still unknown. As for the Goseck Circle, the placement of the gates seems important : since two of them correspond with “sunrise and sunset during the winter and summer solstices” (Killgrove 2022), they thought that it was an observatory just like Stonehenge (Biehl 2012). However, this is only a theory. Others are not as certain, preferring to say it had several purposes : it could have been serving as a trade center, or as a religious center where rituals were performed from time to time (Jacobs 2022). As for the Prague roundel, the researchers and Miroslav Kraus (director of the excavations) expressed their hope of actually discovering hints about the function of the building. Excavations are still underway, in order to understand its vertical stratification (Figure 2), which represents changes through times.

Figure 2: Stratigraphy of the excavation. (Institute of Archaeology of the Czech Academy of Sciences)

With this process of excavation, archaeologists hope to find clues about the precise date of the construction of the mysterious structure and its purpose. Moreover, archaeologists also expect to find potential graves or tools that could give us more information about the people who built these buildings : since they only had wood and stones as tools, these roundels are surprising. However, although it sounds pessimistic, it is “unlikely since none of the previously researched roundels have revealed such information”, Miroslav Kraus said (Archaeology 2022).

Further Reading:




1) Biehl, Peter. April 16, 2012. “Meanings and Functions of Enclosed Places in the European Neolithic: A Contextual Approach to Cult, Ritual, and Religion.” Archaeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association. Volume 21, Issue 1: 130-146. https://anthrosource.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1551-8248.2012.01041.x

2) Jacobs, Harrison. September 23, 2022. “Archaeologists Discovered 7,000-Year-Old Structure Older Than Stonehenge or Pyramids of Giza.” ARTnews. https://www.artnews.com/art-news/news/archaeology-news-czech-roundel-older-stonehenge-giza-pyramids-1234640376/

4) September 12, 2022. “Footprint of a Prehistoric Structure Uncovered Near Prague.” Archaeology. https://www.archaeology.org/news/10822-220912-prague-vinor-structure

5) Renfrew, Colin & Bahn, Paul. November 26, 2018. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practice. Chapter 3:70. Thames & Hudson, 4th edition.

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