(Ar., “stone heap of the wild cat”),

a large Bronze Age megalithic complex also known as Rogem Hiri and Gilgal Rephaim, situated in the central Golan, about 16 km (10 mi.) east of the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee (map reference 2254 × 2573), about 515 m above sea level. With major occupational remains from the Early and the Late Bronze Ages, the site consists of a massive, carefully constructed central cairn roughly 20 m in diameter and 4.5 m high, encircled by several concentric stone circles. The outermost circle is about 156 m in diameter and 500 m in circumference. The 2.5-meter-high and 3.5-meter-wide stone rings are sporadically connected by a series of short radial walls. There are two monumental entryways to the complex, one facing the northeast and the other the southeast. The cairn, circles, and hundreds of dolmens—the straight, shallow stone walls that surround the monument—constitute a large megalithic complex that is one of the most impressive archaeological stone monuments in the southern Levant. Petroglyphs have been reported both from the monument and from areas neighboring it.

Rujm el-Hiri was discovered during the 1967–1968 archaeological survey of the Golan Heights. Initial explanations for the function and the date of the complex described it as a ceremonial center, a defense enclosure, a central storage facility, a large burial complex, a center for astronomical observations, and a calendrical device. Rujm el-Hiri yielded almost no surface artifacts, limiting the possibilities for dating it. Tentative dates offered for the site were usually within the temporal framework of the third millennium BCE, although both slightly earlier and later dates were also suggested. The ongoing debates over the date and the function of Rujm el-Hiri triggered the Rujm el-Hiri Project (1988–1991), directed by Yonathan Mizrachi of Harvard University, as part of the Land of Geshur Project of Tel Aviv University, in cooperation with the Israeli Antiquities Authority. The research program at Rujm el-Hiri was designed from the outset as a long-term, problem-oriented multidisciplinary effort, including a large excavation project, a geophysical survey program, a lichenometric study, and a comprehensive study of the geometry and astronomy of the complex. A preliminary geophysical survey provided data on subsurface elements and valuable information on the central cairn: data from a magnetometer survey suggested that the cairn was built on a naturally elevated basalt formation. Based on the radar data, several targets were identified within the central cairn, one of which was excavated and turned out to be a carefully constructed burial chamber. Seismic data helped in isolating areas with deep stratification for future excavations. Four main excavation areas were opened in the circular complex: NE-I and NE-II in the northeast quadrant, SW-I in the southwest quadrant, and cairn I in the central cairn. Excavation exposed substantial examples of architecture in the northeast gate and the central cairn and a dromos-based burial chamber measuring 2 × 2 m within the central cairn. The looted chamber contained the remains of a dozen carnelian beads, arrowheads, and three gold earrings.

Excavation and survey data, lichenometric studies, and studies of the geometry and astronomy of the complex indicate that the concentric stone circles and the two gates were already in place by the later part of the third millennium BCE. By contrast, evidence excavated from the central cairn and analysis of the geometry of the complex all point to the surprising possibility that the cairn in its present format was extensively used, and probably built, sometime during the late second millennium BCE. Although alternative reconstructions are possible, it appears that Rujm el-Hiri is a LB megalithic cairn built within a preexisting EB monumental complex, rather than a single contemporary EB monumental complex built around a megalithic cairn (for the latter view, that the LB material represents a secondary usage of the cairn, see Kochavi, 1989).

During the mid-third millennium BCE, a large ceremonial center was erected at Rujm el-Hiri. The complex reflects such care in engineering and design that there can be little doubt that the alignments of the architecture were intenational and meant to manifest notions of religion and cosmology and permanently record culturally significant alignments (e.g., alignments associated with the agricultural calender) by using the entryways and the radial walls as alignments fixing devices for both celestial and noncelestial elements or phenomena. This EB monument served as a socioeconomic and a political central place for the local third-millennium urban populations—the inhabitants of the Golan enclosure sites. Concurrently, the site served as a spiritual focal point for these populations, a node at which religious ceremonies associated with ritual observations were performed. The fact that the Rujm el-Hiri complex falls within the temporal horizon in which complex society and subsequent urbanization emerged in this region is of special significance. Thus, Mizrachi interprets the hypermonumentality of the complex as a means of symbolizing power through the conspicuous consumption of energy, control of which is the fundamental measure of power in complex, urban societies.

By the late second millennium BCE, the central cairn was built in its present format. This reconstruction is plausible in light of the accumulated evidence for construction and reuse of dolmens in the late second millennium that has been reported from other sites in neighboring areas and from the northern Golan. It is known from the astronomical and geometric analyses that during this time the complex could not have functioned as a celestial-bodies alignments-fixing device. This observation, as well as the nature and the association of the late second-millennium material recovered, leads to the suggestion that the primary function of the complex during the Late Bronze Age was associated with burial. Something during the post-LB era, Rujm el-Hiri ceased being a focus of ceremonial or burial activity, and its primary function shifted toward something more earthly. It seems that by this time the large stone complex had been used as a source of construction material, a cattle pen, a storage place, and perhaps even as a defense post.

[See also Dolmen; and Golan.]

Bibliography

  • Aveni, Anthony, and Yonathan Mizrachi. “A Study of the Geometry and Astronomy of Rogem Hiri, a Megalithic Monument from the Southern Levant.” Forthcoming. Detailed study of the astronomical and geometric aspects of the complex. Essential reading.
  • Kochavi, Moshe. “The Land of Geshur Project: Regional Archaeology of the Southern Golan, 1987–1988 Seasons.” Israel Exploration Journal 39.1–2 (1989): 1–17. Survey of some recent Bronze and Iron Age work in the Golan.
  • Mizrachi, Yonathan. “Mystery Circles on the Golan.” Biblical Archaeology Review 18.4 (1992): 46–57. The story of five years of research at Rujm el-Hiri, including a description of each of the major research programs, color photos, drawings, and reconstructions.
  • Mizrachi, Yonathan. “Rujm el-Hiri: Toward an Understanding of a Bronze Age Megalithic Monument in the Levant.” Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1993. The most detailed and comprehensive study available on Rujm el-Hiri, including site plans, drawings, and color plates.
  • Mizrachi, Yonathan, Mattanyah Zohar, Moshe Kochari, Pirhiya Beck, Vincent Murphy, Anthony Aveni, and Simcha Lev-Yadun. “Report of the 1988–1991 Exploration Efforts at Rogem Hiri, Golan Heights.” Israel Exploration Journal (forthcoming). Detailed technical report of the Rujm el-Hiri excavations.
  • Zohar, Mattanyah. “Rogem Hiri: A Megalithic Monument in the Golan.” Israel Exploration Journal 39.1–2 (1989): 18–31. Summary of the available information about Rujm el-Hiri prior to the Rujm el-Hiri Project, with detailed description of the complex's architecture.
  • Zohar, Mattanyah. “Megalithic Cemeteries in the Levant.” In Pastoralism in the Levant: Archaeological Materials in Anthropological Perspectives, edited by Ofer Bar-Yosef and Anatoly Khazanov, pp. 43–63. Prehistory Press Monographs in World Archaeology, no. 10. Madison, Wis., 1992. Comprehensive survey of megalithic remains in the Levant.

Yonathan Mizrachi