ARCHEOLOGY

The large number of excavated artefacts discovered in the archaeological context, as well as the topographic characteristics of the site (its dominant position on the hill, a top with a large radius of visibility which can be reached from a slope lit by the sun and positioned on the southeast side of the locality etc.) show that this locality was used as a peak sanctuary on which the local Bronze Age people carried out several mountain rituals.


Ceramic cup from the Early Bronze Age uncovered on Kokino


Almost all of the archaeological artefacts were found either on the highest part of the locality or slightly lower, on the north slope of the hill. During the archaeological research of this area, two types of cult structures were identified: ritual pits and circular stone constructions.


Circular stone structure in which offerings were placed during religious rituals


Ritual pit in which offerings were placed during religious rituals


The fragments of the same ceramic vessels are sometimes found scattered a few meters away from each other, indicating the practice of smashing the vessels and scattering the pieces during religious rituals. The discovery of the funeral-like vessels indicates that in certain rituals libations were performed.


Stone mold for casting bronze amulets uncovered on Kokino


Most of the archaeological artefacts found in Kokino date from early Bronze Age (21st – 17th c. B.C.) and late Bronze Age (14th – 11th century B.C.). The finds dating from Middle Bronze Age (17th – 14th century BC) are not so numerous.

The latest archaeological research revealed traces of the Iron Age settlement (7th century BC) situated on the southern slope of the hill. This latest find showed that the locality was no longer used as a sanctuary, although it maybe continued to be used as an observatory.


Ceramic vessels uncovered during a dig


Artefacts found in the ritual pits and the circular stone constructions included: ceramic vessels or their fragments, hand mills, pyramidal weights, moulds for casting bronze objects, stone axes, etc. Apart from vessels, small votive ceramic figurines representing cattle or parts of the human body were also deposed.


Ceramic cup uncovered on Kokino


Approximately 100 ritual pits formed around natural fissures of the rocks have been discovered. The openings surrounding the fissures were delimited with stones mixed with earth and sometimes clay. The archaeological artefacts were found at the bottom of the pits, covered with earth and small stones. The pits were then enclosed with stone plaques that do not originate from the locality.

The circular constructions were composed of big stones arranged in circles with diameters of 1-2 meters. Structures with a “tumulus” shape where formed by covering the deposits with earth and small stones.


ASTRONOMY

The ancient observatory of Kokino (or Kokino Megalithic Observatory) is one of the most interesting features of this archaeological site. Astronomical research has shown that the highest part of the locality was used for this purpose by the area’s prehistoric inhabitants. From that area, through specially made markers cut in the rock, the characteristic positions of the sun, the moon, as well as the position of the Aldebaran star were observed.

The view towards the stone thrones on Platform A


The area used as an observatory has a west – east orientation. It is composed of the lower western and the upper eastern platform (A and B, with a 19 m height difference between them) and two astronomical platforms (western astronomical platform C and northern astronomical platform D). The platforms A and B were used exclusively for ritual purposes.

The cut-mark for the summer solstice


The markers of the sunrise on the days of the summer and winter solstices and of the spring and fall equinoxes can be seen from a specific area on the observatory (astronomical Platform C). The markers of the minimal and maximal declination of the full moon-rise in the winter and in the summer give the observatory a special importance. The astronomical research showed that the astronomical Platform C and its cut-markers were made in the second half of the 19th c B.C.

The cut-mark for the winter solstice


The latest research has shown that the astronomical Platform D on Kokino’s northern slope was used to observe the spring and the fall equinoxes, as well as the position of the star Aldebaran in the period between 2000 and 1500 years B.C. There are indications that the ancient sky-watchers, considering the knowledge they possessed at the time, were able to predict the eclipses of the sun and the moon.


Calendar

By observing the rising of full moon on the eastern horizon for a long period - when it appears highest (during the winter) and lowest (during the summer) on the sky, the ancient observers from Kokino were able to mark its maximal and minimal declinations in these seasons. These moon rises have been observed from the astronomical platform D. The prehistoric inhabitants of the area had noticed that on the same calendar day, the same phase of the moon appears in the same spot on the horizon, every 19 years.

The Moon above its minimal declination cut-mark during the winter


By marking the moonrises, the prehistoric inhabitants created the Kokino lunar calendar for a 19 year cycle. Creating a calendar is a great accomplishment of the prehistoric inhabitants’ and proof of a well-organized society and an advanced spiritual culture.

The Moon above Kokino


According to this calendar, the lunar year was composed of 12 or 13 lunar months, each from 29 or 30 days. Accordingly, 12 lunar years contained 12 lunar months, out of which 6 winter months - with length of 29 days, as well as 6 summer months – with length of 30 days. The remaining 7 lunar years were composed of 13 lunar months, out of which 6 winter – with a length of 29 days, and 7 summer – with a length of 30 days.

The sun rises behind the ritual cut-mark


Additional stone markers were made for marking and measuring the length of the lunar months for 29 and 30 days. From these, the marker used for measuring the length of the lunar month of 29 days has been well preserved.

RITUALS

The rituals performed by placing the offerings in the natural fissures of the rocks (Ritual pits) and in the Circular stone constructions was probably connected with the cult of fertility and the Great Goddess – Mother, at this time venerated in the form of a rocky peak. The small votive ceramic figurines, representing cattle or parts of human body, were intended to procure good health of both people and livestock.

Votive figurine - Ceramic representation of human foot


The most distinguishable astronomical marker, the so-called “ritual marker” (K), was constructed for the observer sitting on the thrones (platform A). It is located just below the highest part of the locality and positioned to mark the rising of the sun on certain days of the year. The sun’s rays pass through the right edge of the artificially cut trench on the eastern Platform (B) and then through another artificial notch below. As a result, they illuminate just one of the thrones on Platform A in the middle of May (14th or 15th of May) and in the end of July (30th or 31st of July).

The sun illuminates the stone thrones through the ritual marker


The existence of a second equinox marker (observed from Platform D) is an additional confirmation that the builders of the megalith observatory Kokino were familiar with the concept of the equinox. Additionally, the equinox marker was also the marker for the star Aldebaran’s in the years when Platform D was constructed, because Aldebaran’s position was in the equinox point in the 21st century B.C. (2083 B.C.).

Platform A - stone thrones


Just like most of the stars, Aldebaran’s position changed due to its regular movement across the sky and the rotation of Earth’s axis. In the beginning of the second millennium B.C., the heliacal rising (the appearance in the horizon of the observer just before sunrise) of Aldebaran in the middle of May through the equinox marker seen from Platform D and the sunrise through the ritual marker seen from the thrones’ platform, happened on the same morning. As the equinox marker and the ritual marker were built on the same stone block, they are “mutual” for the both Platforms A and D.

The sun sets over Kokino


The illumination of one of the thrones (in middle of May and in the end of July), the appearance of Aldebaran and the Sun on the “mutual” marker, was observed as a part of ritual celebrations which marked the beginning of the new seasons, the renewal of nature and the start of the agricultural work cycles on which the whole community depended.

The double cut-mark (ritual and astronomical) was observed from two different platforms



The sun appears on the equinox cut-mark.

1-5 - Positions where the star Aldebaran appeared between the years 2083 and 1500 B.C.



MYTHS AND STORIES

Ancient Rituals


Although Kokino is best known for its megalithic observatory, the role of this mountain in prehistoric times was twofold. While some of the markers that were carved into the rocks served a practical purpose, such as tracking the passage of time and the seasons, other markers, together with the stone thrones, were used for ritual purposes. Kokino served as a holy mountain and was considered a regional religious centre, with people traveling up to two days on foot to perform rituals.


The sun behind the summer solstice cut-mark


The Bronze Age inhabitants of the area around Kokino believed as many other peoples of that period that the natural elements were alive, had their own characters and moods. Archaeologists assume that most of the rituals performed on Kokino were in worship of two deities that in one form or another were worshiped by many cultures before and during the Bronze Age – the Great Mother Goddess and the Sun.

The Great Mother Goddess was the personification of growth, fertility, the land, and the animals and people who lived off it. The rocks at the top of Kokino are of a volcanic origin which is why they have numerous vertical and horizontal cracks. The locals thought of these cracks as openings that lead towards the womb of the Great Mother Goddess. They brought offerings from their homes to the top of the mountain where they would place them in the naturally formed cracks – things like ceramic vessels full of fruits and vegetables, liquid offerings (wine, olive oil, etc.), figurines, grain mills, pyramidal weights and moulds for making items out of bronze. After placing the offerings in the cracks, they would bury them with earth and rocks. These gifts were meant to appease the Great Mother Goddess who would in turn provide them with a fertile season. The same ritual was performed on the northern slope of Kokino where people dug holes into the ground until they hit rock, buried their offerings with earth and small stones.


Ceramic vessels uncovered during a dig


One of the rituals that are believed to have been performed on Kokino were to do with the Sun. The Sun was thought to be the son of the Great Mother Goddess and personified light, warmth, strength and power. Archaeologists think that the stone thrones were built in order to transfer the symbolic power of the Sun to the leaders of the tribe, thereby granting them the right to rule. Those who sat on them faced the east, towards the rising sun. On 14 or 15 May and 31 July, the first ray of the sun passed through the ritual marker and illuminated the one of the stone thrones.


Platform A - stone thrones


The tribal leaders would sit on the thrones as the first rays would illuminate one and then the rest of them, thereby legitimizing their rule and giving the chief or priest the strength necessary to rule their people.

Through these rituals, the Bronze Age inhabitants of the region showed their respect of nature and their desire to get closer to their deities. If you visit Kokino during one of the ritual days, at the height of the power of the elements, perhaps you too will be transported to the mythical past of Kokino, when gods walked the earth and lived among us.



The Toughest

Kokino and the surrounding area have been inhabited since the start of the Bronze Age. Throughout the centuries, a variety of peoples and civilizations called Kokino their home. For some of them, like the builders of the observatory and the sacred sites, we can only make educated guesses as to how they lived due to the lack of a written language and the limited number of artefacts from those periods. For other, however, historical texts have been uncovered, allowing us to get a better insight into their lives.

It is commonly accepted by historians that one of the tribes living within today’s borders of Macedonia during the Iron Age were the Paeonians – a people mentioned in Homer’s Iliad. Known as skilled horse hiders, the Paeonians fought on the side of the Trojans during the Trojan War. Because of their riding abilities, they were later recruited into the heavy cavalry units of Greek and Roman armies.


Hypaspist - Shield bearer


Few people who visit Kokino know that the land visible from the site in the time of Alexander the Great was the home of one of the toughest people in the region – the Agrianians. The Agrianians were a Paeonian tribe known for their skill in throwing javelins, as well as their discipline in battle. In order to be as mobile as possible, they carried a stack of javelins and wore minimal armour. They were also skilled in fighting on difficult terrain where the traditional phalanx formation was impractical and mobility was the key to victory.

The region they inhabited is roughly estimated to be between the towns of Kumanovo in Macedonia, Vranje in Serbia and Pernik in Bulgaria. Alexander the Great was famous for attacking with his “hammer and anvil” tactic, flanking with cavalry from behind as the hammer and squeezing the enemy between them and the infantry at the front – the anvil. This was a high risk, high reward strategy.


Agrianian soldier


If the cavalry failed to flank the enemy or break their formation, Alexander and his commanders were exposed to a counterattack. The highly mobile Agrianians, armed with swords and short spears, therefore had the role of elite infantry or bodyguards. It is said that they saved Alexander’s life in battle many times over. The best known example is from the Battle of Gaugamela, where Alexander’s army faced off against the Persian forces of king Darius III in a decisive engagement. Legend has it that at one point in the battle Alexander was knocked off his horse and was surrounded by the enemy. It was only because of the quick reaction of the Agrianians and the rest of his guard, who rallied around him in his defence, that he survived the battle.

Perhaps it was from Kokino that some of them saw their homeland, stretching from one end of the horizon to the other, before departing with Alexander on a campaign of conquest that would lay the foundation for one of the biggest empires in history.



The Cursed Hill

Even before Kokino was discovered as a megalithic observatory and holy mountain in 2001, the locals in the vicinity believed that it has mysterious powers. Even today, some of the villagers believe that Kokino is cursed and that those who overstay their welcome or dare to disturb the site will be punished. If you meet one of them, you might just convince them to tell you about the event that started it all, some 50 or 60 years ago, and which begot the modern belief in Kokino’s powers.


A view of the mountain of Kokino


They say that during that period, during several days and only in specific times of those days, rocks the size of a human fist would fall on the roofs of the houses that were the closest to the hill. The rocks damaged the roofing and the windows of the owners of the houses, so they, probably thinking that one of the local jokers was pulling a prank on them, called in the Yugoslavian police to clear up the case. The police force, known then for its strictness and thoroughness, organized a tracking and observation taskforce near the site, hoping that the felon would be caught and appropriately punished. For a few days, the little hamlet looked like a scene straight out of a crime novel. Despite all the efforts of the police and the locals, the culprit was never caught, and the stones continued to fall on the roofs of the houses. The owners of these two or three houses couldn’t cope with the constant expense of repairing the roofs and the psychological stress of being under siege by stones that were most likely not being thrown by human hands. They moved out of their houses and never came back.

If you start the climb towards Kokino, you will see those abandoned houses to your right, still here to remind visitors that they are entering a place which demands respect, where you can still hear the echo of rituals that took place millennia ago. Other, more skeptical observers, however, will tell you that the Macedonian national folklore has always had a tendency to embellish and promote the mystical aspects in all of its stories. How much of this local legend is real? Did the mountain really punish those who dared to cross its’ threshold, or did the villagers’ rich imagination fabricate its own reality? Visit Kokino and decide for yourself.