If initial estimates prove correct, Australia may be home to the world's oldest astronomical observatory.
A man-made rock formation of 100 blocks of basalt, located roughly 28 miles west of Melbourne, has been found to align with the equinox, the winter solstice and the summer solstice. Called the Wurdi Youang stone arrangement, the ancient site is believed to pre-date Egypt's Great Pyramids of Giza and England's Stonehenge, with some geologists and experts believing it was created more than 11,000 years ago.
Arranged in an egg-shaped circle with a diameter of 165 feet, the stone blocks vary in size from knee-high to waist-high.
“The formation also depicts the landscape in an art form,” site custodian Reg Abrahams told The Guardian. “There are a few mountain ranges around the site, and if you get in certain positions within the stone arrangement you’ll see three big mountains and the three large rocks which mimic them."
Overlay showing how the Wurdi Youang stone formation corresponds to the annual solar cycle. (Photo: POI Australia)
Wurdi Youang's preservation through the ages is thanks in part to both its remote, undisclosed location and the steps taken by the previous owners to fence off the area from potential livestock damage. In 2006 the land title was handed over to the Wathaurong Aboriginal Cooperative, which has worked with scientists and researchers to help understand the sacred site's purpose and age.
Talking to ABC, Abrahams added that evidence around the observatory indicates the remains of semi-permanent villages engaged in early agriculture practices.
"You see a lot of agricultural and aquacultural practices, so evidence of this agriculture may go back tens of thousands of years, pre-dating what anthropologists commonly think of as the dawn of agriculture which is about 11,000 years ago in Mesopotamia," he said.
In addition to working out the exact age of the site, researchers also hope to shed more light on the increasingly complex lives of Australia's early nomadic aboriginal populations.
"We’re working to get it on the Australian national heritage list and possibly even have it classified as a world heritage site,” Abrahams added to the Guardian.
You can see video of the picturesque Wurdi Youang formation below: