Large Stone Circles

Some of the most interesting megalithic structures that can be found on the island of Lampedusa are the remains of prehistoric circular ditches and henges. The poor conditions of the remains makes it difficult to recognize them: a trained eye, help from satellite imagery and computer graphics were needed to discover them. 
No example of similar structures are reported anywhere else in the whole Mediterranean Sea while, on the contrary there are several in the continental Europe making those in Lampedusa something very interesting and unique.
The first person to mention the existence of a large sub-circular “stone structure” with a 40+ meters diameter on the island of Lampedusa was the archeologist Stefano Diceglie in his 1994 work*:  using aerial pictures he managed to find a circular stone structure of approximately 40 meters diameter in an area of Lampedusa called “Cimitero Vecchio”. Below we post the aerial pictures used by Diceglie to identify these structures: a picture of 1942 (left) and a more recent one from 1989 (showing regrettably how many of the original stones have been removed and likely used for modern residential buildings or modern farming walls). 

First pictures of the large circular stone structures of Lampedusa 
(1942 left, 1989 right) Courtesy of Stefano Diceglie*

In his work of Diceglie was mostly concerned about showing how remote sensing, aerial photography and satellite imaginetry may be useful for archeological research in environmental situations similar to those of Lampedusa: he offered no interpretation of these particular large stone structure but he suggested that additional archeological research on the field may be needed to better understand it.
Considering that more than 15 years have passed since this first mention of this large stone structure and that nobody has studied or at least mentioned it ever since, I was particularly committed to find out more.
I began my research using satellite imagery from Google Earth to first locate the exact coordinates of the structure and by so doing I was able to locate two additional similar structures bringing a total of three such circular stone structures, amazing fact  in a tiny island such as Lampedusa .
Then I went on the field to get a better sense of the morphology and dimension of these structures.
Finally I made some research on the available literature and here I presents the most important findings/deductions of my research: needless to say I am not an archaeologist so I cannot say a definitive word about these structures but hopefully my research will stimulate additional work by bringing the attention of better equipped researchers back to thus important archeological structures which are unique in all the Mediterranean Sea.
The remains of 2 of these mysterious large stone structures can be found on the ridges next to fields of “Cimitero Vecchio” , while the third one, slightly different and less visible can be found inside zone A of the Natural Reserve on the "Tabaccara Coast" (not far from the Megalithic Village we have already described elsewhere). We must begin by saying that the conditions  of the remains are particularly poor and their state is severely at risk of disappearance.... (please spread the word and help us to protect this unique piece of archeological heritage). 
These large stone structure most likely once had parts made of wood and earth (earthworks such as banks and ditches):  wood has decayed and the upstanding earthen features have been eroded by wind and water erosion following the severe deforestation of Lampedusa during the Nineteenth century (see description of the forests of Lampedusa by Smyth 1815. Nonetheless, evidence of prehistoric structures is still visible by satellite imagery and also on the field. Below the coordinates and  measures of all the three structures.

Large Stone structure number 1 (the one described by Diceglie in 1994) 
Satellite imagery courtesy of Google Earth

Coordinates: 35°31’16’’20N  12°34’09’’E - “Cimitero Vecchio”
Number of Concentric Circles: 3 concentric traces are clearly from satellite imagery
Outer Circle diameter:  Approximately 80 meters
Central Circle diameter:  Approximately 45 meters
Inner Circle diameter:  Approximately 25 meters
Entrance:  East

Large Stone structure number 1 North View

Large Stone structure number 1 South View

Large Stone structure number 2 
Satellite imagery courtesy of Google Earth

Coordinates: 35°31’24’’29N 12°33’58’’E  - “Cimitero Vecchio”
Number of Concentric Circles: 2/3 concentric traces are clearly from satellite imagery
Outer Circle diameter:  Approximately 70 meters
CentralCircle diameter:  Approximately 45 meters
Inner Circle diameter:  Approximately 25 meters
Entrance:  Unclear

Large Stone structure number 2 North View

Large Stone structure number 3
Satellite imagery courtesy of Google Earth

Coordinates: 30°30’45’’26  12°34’09’’E  - "Zone A Natural Reserve"
Number of Concentric Circles: only 1 trace is visible from satellite imagery
Diameter: 70 meters
Entrance:  Unclear

 Large Stone structure number 3 North View

Large Stone structure number 3 North View

All the three large stone structures  have something in common (see the pictures above): traces of some kind of circular earthworks (rather than the typical orthostatic stones of the smaller Lampedusa Stone Circles)  are still visible on the field despite the severe soil degradation and erosion: most likely they are the remains of an outer small earthen bank and of inner small ditch. In order to better understand these structures we must first introduce a basic description of typical neolithic earthworks such as "Ditched villages" and "Causewayed Enclosures" which gradually evolved into stand alone "Circular Ditches" and "Henges"

"Ditched villages" (“Villagi Trincerati” ) are typical of the Italian Neolithic, some examples can also be found in Sicily: the prehistoric villages of Stentinello, Ognina, Megara Hyblaea were all surrounded by large and deep ditches with a defensive function and which also served for burial deposition (a common feature of the Italian “Villaggi Trincerati”, the British causewayed enclosures such as Windmill Hill and of  LBK sites such as Herxheim).

The concept of "causewayed enclosure" must have originated in mainland Europe and spread quickly through France, Germany, Scandinavia and the British Isles, although in the  beginning, they were closely integrated into the pattern of settlement and were often associated with houses, such earthworks were eventually to take on a life of their own. The earthworks were increasingly constructed towards the margins of the settled landscape rather than its centre, and the link between these sites and everyday activities became increasingly tenuous. They were no longer occupation sites.  Some of the central European enclosures were created in virtual isolation.

The large circular stone structures of Lampedusa show no traces of settlement, they are almost circular with traces/remains of an outer earthen bank rather than an outer ditch: this is something never seen in the Italian prehistory:  my mind instinctively goes to two particular form of causewayed enclosure: the Circular Ditches  Henge.

Most causewayed enclosures have been ploughed away in the intervening millennia and are recognized through aerial archaeology.  An increasing proportion of these Causewayed enclosures  developed into a more regular configuration (Circular Ditches):  the most common form was a circle, they were often encircled by one to four concentric ditches with an internal bank.They were constructed between the fifth millennium BC and the early third millennium BC with notable regional variations.
Circular ditches are one or more concentrated laid circular formed ditches, which have a diameter of 40 to 180 meters. Whether they were used for temple gathering centers, calendar buildings for observing the stars, refuge forts or honoring ancestors has yet to be scientifically proven. These structures spread over GermanyAustriaSlovakia, and the Czech Republic from 5000 BC.
The Goseck circle is a Neolithic structure in Goseck (a small German village). It consists of a set of concentric ditches 75 metres (246 feet) across and two palisade rings containing gates in defined places. It is known as the  "German Stonehenge". Potsherds at the site suggests that it  was built ca. 4900 BCE.

Goseck Circle excavated
Goseck Circle reconstructed

A henge is a particular type of Neolithic earthwork consisting of a roughly circular or oval-shaped bank with an internal ditch surrounding a central flat area. The diameter of known henges ranges from  20 to 300 meters. The essential characteristic of an henge-circle is the feature that the ditch is  inside the bank outside. Most henges have either a single ditch or a pair of concentric ditches surrounding the central area.The soil and bedrock taken from the ditch was used to build the henge bank which generally lay outside the ditch. Access to the central area was via formal entrances through the earthwork. The original purpose and function of henge monuments is not fully understood. Henges may have been used for rituals or astronomical observation rather than day-to-day activity. The alignment of henges is a contentious issue.
The most fampus henge is known is Stonehenge , whose earliest phase of building took place between about 3000 BC and resulted in the construction of a precisely circular earthwork enclosure defined by an internal bank and an external ditch, the famous standing stones were added only centuries later around 2500 BC
Stone Henge I phase plan (circa 3100 BC) from Wikipedia
Stonehenge (Aerial picture courtesy of Google Earth)

Thornborough Henges (Central Henge) (Aerial picture courtesy of Google Earth)

Thornborough Henges (Southern Henge) (Aerial picture courtesy of Google Earth)

There is little doubt in my mind that the large stone structures of Lampedusa described before are the Mediterranean version of prehistoric earthworks such as the British Henges, however, it is absolutely urgent in my opinion that additional research and archeological excavations  are performed before these incredible and mysterious structures disappear from Lampedusa: natural erosion and human activity are gradually destroying this important and unique piece of archeological heritage.  Please spread the word, sharing the word about the existence of such structures is important because it may reach those who can do something to really protect and study these structures.

August 2011 

copyright by  
Diego Ratti 


I have taken hundreds and hundreds pictures of these structures, taken measures, measured their astronomical azimuts and after studying them I have completed a tentative archaeo-astronomy project about them: I will post it here soon (it is still under construction): 

August 2011 

copyright by  
Diego Ratti


*Diceglie “Telerilevamento archeologico di Lampedusa”, 1994 Falsano di Bari
"The Creation of Monuments: Neolithic Causewayed Enclosures of the British  Isles” Oswald, Barber and Dyer (1999).
 ‘Interpreting Causewayed Enclosures in the Past  and the Present’ in C Tilley (ed), Interpretative Archaeology (1993);

Mark Edmonds “Ancestral Geographies of the Neolithic:  Landscapes, Monuments and Memory (1999).
“Causewayed Enclosures” , May 2011, English Heritage, by Al Oswald
“The early Mediterranean Village”, Cambridge University Press, John Robb 2007
Sicily Before History: An Archaeological Survey from the Palaeolithic to the Iron Age”Robert Leighton , Cornell University Press (March 1994)