A vast, shadowy circle sits in a flat wheat field near Goseck, Germany. No, it is not a pattern made by tipsy graduate students. The circle represents the remains of the world's oldest observatory, dating back 7,000 years. Coupled with an etched disk recovered last year, the observatory suggests that Neolithic and Bronze Age people measured the heavens far earlier and more accurately than scientists had imagined.
Archaeologists reported the Goseck circle's identity and age this past August. First spotted by airplane, the circle is 75 meters wide. Originally, it consisted of four concentric circles--a mound, a ditch and two wooden palisades about the height of a person--in which stood three sets of gates facing southeast, southwest and north, respectively. On the winter solstice, someone at the center of the circles would see the sun rise and set through the southern gates.