A carved stone found marking a Bronze Age grave in the Ukraine is the oldest sundial of its kind ever found, a new study reveals.
The sundial may have marked the final resting place of a young man sacrificed or otherwise marked as a messenger to the gods or ancestors, said study researcher Larisa Vodolazhskaya of the Archaeoastronomical Research Center at Southern Federal University in Russia. Vodolazhskaya analyzed the geometry of the tire-size stone and its carvings, confirming the stone would have marked the time using a system of parallel lines and an elliptical pattern of circular depressions.
The elliptical pattern makes the carving an analemmatic sundial. A traditional sundial marks the time using a gnomon, a fixed vertical that casts a shadow. An analemmatic sundial has a gnomon that must move every day of the year to adjust to the changing position of the sun in the sky. [See Images of the Ancient Sundial]
The sundial belonged to the Srubna or Srubnaya culture, known for the timber-framed graves they left on the steppes between the Ural Mountains and Ukraine's Dneiper River.In 2011, a group of archaeologists led by Yurii Polidovich of the Donetsk Museum of Regional Studies was excavating a Bronze Age burial mound dating to the 12th or 13th century B.C. and uncovered the carved slab, which was marked with lines and circles on both sides. In February 2013, the archaeologists sent pictures of the find to Vodolazhskaya, suggesting that she might find it interesting given her work on Bronze Age petroglyphs.
"Having received photos of [the] plates, I pondered the possible interpretations of images," Vodolazhskaya wrote in an email to LiveScience. "One of my hypotheses was associated with a sundial."
To prove the carvings represented a sundial, Vodolazhskaya calculated the angles that would have been created by the sun and shadows at that latitude and confirmed that the carvings on the slabs could have been used to mark the hours accurately.
"They are made for the geographic latitude at which the sundials were found," she said ( via livescience.com ).