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Where the ancients studied the moon and stars

By Stephanie Busari, CNN and Catriona Davies
  • Macedonia has some 4,485 archaeological sites
  • The relics include vivid mosaics, amphitheaters and Roman baths
  • Kokino has been listed by NASA as one of the world's most important ancient observatories

CNN's new series i-List takes you to a different country each month. In May, we visit the Macedonia focusing on changes shaping the country's economy, culture and its social fabric.

(CNN) -- Macedonia is the youngest ancient country in the world and is full of relics of times past.

Although the country was only officially formed in 1991(Macedonia gained independence from the former Yugoslav federation), it has been part of all the great empires of history, from Roman to Ottoman to Byzantine and they have all left their mark with thousands of ancient sites.

The country has an estimated 4,485 archaeological sites from all historical periods, according to Pasko Kuzman, of the country's Cultural Heritage Protection Office.

Jewel in the crown is Kokino, discovered in the mountains near Kumanovo in 2001 by local archaeologist Jovica Stankovski. It is a 4,000-year-old Megalithic Observatory used in the Bronze Age for studying the sun and moon.

The site, at an altitude of more than 1,000m and with a 100m diameter, is described as the "Macedonian Stonehenge" and is ranked by NASA as the fourth oldest ancient observatory in the world, after Abu Simbel in Egypt, Stonehenge in Britain and Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Video: Macedonia's forgotten gem

Several stone seats, known as thrones and facing the east horizon were also discovered on the site.

Research showed that the observatory had a specific place for monitoring the stars and the sun, as well as specific holes through which the movement of the sun and the moon could be recorded.

According to physicist Gjore Cenev, the ancient observatory worked by using special stone markers to map the movement of the sun and moon on the eastern horizon. With parts of the observatory well preserved, it is still possible to mark the position of the sun during the summer solstice, he said.

Cenev, who has carried out detailed analysis of the site, wrote in a paper on the subject: "Kokino has incredible astronomical preciseness and has a central observation post and accessory observation posts."

"The observatory defines the four main positions of the Moon and three main positions of the Sun during a year, the autumnal and vernal equinox and winter and summer solstice," he added.

It is believed some of the most important rituals for local inhabitants during the Early Bronze Age would have taken place on the site.

Stankovski, who discovered the ruins, wrote in the Macedonian Archaeological News: "One of the most attractive rituals noted at Kokino is the ritual of the sacred union of the Great Mother Earth and her Son, the Sun. The ritual was performed in mid-summer and it was probably related with the end of the harvest season."

There are theories that the Kokino Megalithic Observatory was part of a larger city after a network of 10 temples was discovered nearby.

Stone drawings and figurines have also been discovered and if Kokino is identified as an ancient civilization, it could the oldest known in the Balkans.

Susannah Palk contributed to this report