A Russian archaeologist claimed Tuesday to have found the well-preserved ruins of a "Caucasian Stonehenge" built by a previously unknown Bronze Age civilization in southern Russia.
Andrey Belinskiy said that unusual circular settings made of stones were found at one of some 200 settlements that date back to 1600 B.C. and are located in the North Caucasus mountains. The settlements have been uncovered in the past five years by a Russian-German expedition he heads, Belinskiy said.
He referred to the structure as a "Caucasian Stonehenge," drawing a comparison with the famous monument in southwest England.
"Any structure of unusual shape could be related to a calendar," Belinskiy told The Associated Press adding that the structures did not resemble barns and houses his expedition found in other settlements.
He said that ceramics found in the area had ornaments that suggested that their creators were familiar with astronomy and calendars. The civilization he found left no written records and its ethnic origins are unknown, he said.
Valentina Kozenkova, a Caucasus history professor at the Russian Academy of Sciences called the finding "unique and unparalleled."
Russian and Soviet historians have found several Bronze Age structures in Russia and Central Asia that were used as calendars and were surrounded by ritual landscapes.
The North Caucasus is one of the world's most ethnically diverse regions, located between the Caspian and Black seas. The region had millenia-long contacts with civilizations of Mesopotamia, Central Asia and Iran.
Belinskiy said the dwellers of the settlements he uncovered were cattle-grazers who occupied the Alpine areas ideal for their livestock. "It was their climatic niche," he said.
The settlements had carefully designed houses and oval courtyards for cattle and were built on the mountain plateau between the Kuban River and today's city of Kislovodsk, he said.
"They were built by one standard, one measurement system, with landscape and climate factors taken into consideration," he said.
Belinskiy said the highlanders later merged with the so-called Kuban culture, known for exquisite bronze artifacts and extensive agriculture.
"They were superfarmers who left no patch of land uncultivated," Belinskiy said. "But that led to an environmental disaster, and the area was reclaimed only centuries later."
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