A new study which will be published in the journal Archaeoastronomy and Ancient Technologies reports on the discovery of a carved sundial on top of a Bronze Age grave in the Ukraine, now known to be the oldest sundial of its kind.
The carved stone was first discovered in 2011 when a team 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 BC.
During the dig they uncovered the stone slab which was marked with lines and circles on both sides, however, it was not known at the time what the markings were.
Earlier this year, photographs of the stone were sent to Larisa Vodolazhskaya of the Archaeoastronomical Research Center at Southern Federal University in Russia, who had expertise in studying Bronze Age petroglyphs, and Vodalazhskaya was able to unravel some of the mystery behind the markings on the slab.
The carving revealed a sophisticated grasp of geometry and confirmed that it would have marked the time using a system of parallel lines and an elliptical pattern of circular depressions, a system known as an analemmatic sundial
An analemmatic sundial is a particular kind of horizontal sundial in which the shadow-casting object is vertical (a gnomon), is moved depending on the declination of the sun on a given day. The time is read from the dial by noting where the shadow cast by the vertical pin crosses hour points laid out on an ellipse.
In this case, the sundial actually has two gnomons – one to track the time in the morning hours and early afternoon, and the second from late morning to evening, measuring time in half-hour increments. Ancient sundials with half-hour marks are rare, though one was discovered earlier this year at the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.
The sundial belonged to the Srubna or Srubnaya culture, a Late Bronze Age society (18 th – 12 th century BC) known for the timber-framed graves they left on the steppes between the Ural Mountains and Ukraine’s Dneiper River.
Vodolazhskaya believes that the sundial was placed on top of the grave to mark the final resting place of a young man sacrificed or otherwise marked as a messenger to the gods or ancestors.