Archaeology in Israel: Rogem Hiri
The megalithic complex of Rogem Hiri (Rujm al-Hiri in Arabic, meaning “stone heap of the wild cat”) is located in the central Golan, some 16 km. east of the Sea of Galilee, on a desolate plateau of basalt boulders. Since its discovery in a survey of the Golan in the late 1960s, this mysterious site has aroused the curiosity of archeologists. Between 1988 and 1991, archeological excavations and research were conducted in order to establish facts and determine the time of its construction and its function.
Rogem Hiri is a monumental construction of local basalt fieldstones of various sizes. It consists of two architectural units: four concentric circles enclosing a central, round cairn. The outer, largest circle is about 500 m. long and 156 m. in diameter. The walls are of varying width, of up to 3.5 m., and have been preserved to a height of 2.5 m., obliterated in some parts by stone collapse. Several radial walls connect the circular walls, creating a labyrinth-like structure which has only two entryways, one facing northeast, the other southeast.
At the center of the circles is a cairn, an irregular heap of stones. It is 20-25 m. in diameter and preserved to a height of 6 m. The cairn consists of a central mound of stones surrounded by a lower belt, which gives it the appearance of a stepped, truncated cone. A geophysical survey using Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) revealed the pile of stones to be hollow. A built burial chamber, with a narrow corridor leading to it, was discovered there. The chamber is round, roughly 2 m. in diameter, built of large stone plates arranged on top of each other, but slightly slanting inwards. It was covered by two massive slabs of basalt, each weighing over 5.5 tons, which created a semi-corbelled dome over the burial chamber.
Rogem Hiri is one of the most intriguing archeological sites in Israel. A variety of theories concerning the function of this structure, which has no parallel in the Middle East, had been proposed prior to the current research: a religious center; a defensive enclosure; a large burial complex; a center for astronomical observation; and a calendrical device. The structure was even identified as the tomb of Og, King of the Bashan and last of the giants. (Deuteronomy 3:11)
Rogem Hiri was also regarded as an astronomical observatory – a sort of Middle Eastern Stonehenge. This theory is supported by the fact that the eastern side, facing the rising sun, was built with much greater care. Also, the only two entryways are located on that side, the northeastern one roughly oriented towards the solstitial sunrise on 21 June.
The archeologists who excavated the site offer other possible explanations. According to one view, the concentric circles were built during the Early Bronze Age, in the middle of the 3rd millennium BCE, as a cultic and ceremonial center, where nomadic people in the process of becoming sedentary gathered annually; and that much later, during the late Bronze Age (1400 – 1300 BCE) the cairn containing the burial chamber was added (it was robbed of its contents in antiquity and only a few artifacts were found, including gold earrings and bronze arrowheads). Measurements revealed that the cairn is not located in the center of the concentric circles, supporting the view that the stone pile was a later addition.
According to another view, the architecture of Rogem Hiri proves that both the concentric circles and the cairn were parts of a single structure. There is no evidence for a cultic structure below the cairn and artifacts typical of known cultic centers of that period were not found. Rogem Hiri was therefore a monumental commemorative tomb – the mausoleum of an Early Bronze Age leader in the Golan; the tomb was cleared of its early burial remains in the Late Bronze Age, and then reused for burial. The size of the site reflects centralized organization and leadership capable of carrying out an engineering project of such proportions (it is estimated that 42,000 tons of stones had to be transported!).
The riddle of Rogem Hiri remains unsolved. Those who built it some 5,000 years ago left the stage of history and took with them the secrets of this unusual site.
Sources: Israeli Foreign Ministry