The site is generally dated to the 17th century BC. Earlier dates, up to the 20th century BC, have been proposed. It was a settlement of the Sintashta-Petrovka culture.
Discovery and excavation
The site was discovered in 1987 by a team of Chelyabinsk scientists who were preparing the area to be flooded in order to create a reservoir, and examined in rescue excavations led by Gennadii Zdanovich. At first their findings were ignored by Soviet authorities, who planned to flood the site as they had flooded Sarkel earlier, but the attention attracted by news of the discovery forced the Soviet government to revoke its plans for flooding the area. It was designated a cultural reservation in 1991, and in May 2005 the site was visited by then-President Vladimir Putin.
Although the settlement was burned and abandoned, much detail is preserved. Arkaim is similar in form but much better preserved than neighbouring Sintashta, where the earliest chariot was unearthed. The site was protected by two circular walls. There was a central square, surrounded by two circles of dwellings separated by a street. The settlement covered ca. 20,000 m2 (220,000 sq ft). The diameter of the enclosing wall was 160 m (520 ft). It was built from earth packed into timber frames, and reinforced with unburned clay brick, with a thickness of 4–5 m (13–16 ft). and a height of 5.5 m (18 ft). The settlement was surrounded with a 2 m (6 ft 7 in)-deep moat.
There are 4 entrances into the settlement through the outer and inner wall with the main entrance to the west. The dwellings were between 110–180 m2 (1,200–1,900 sq ft) in area. The outer ring of dwellings number 39 or 40, with entrances to a circular street in the middle of the settlement. The inner ring of dwellings number 27, arranged along the inner wall, with doors to the central square of 25 by 27 m (82 by 89 ft). The central street was drained by a covered channel. Zdanovich estimates that approximately 1500 to 2500 people could have lived in the settlement.
The 17th century date suggests that the settlement was about co-eval to, or just post-dating, the Indo-Aryan migration into South Asia and Mesopotamia (the Gandhara grave culture appearing in the Northern Pakistan from ca. 1600 BC, the Indo-European Mitanni rulers reached Anatolia before 1500 BC, both roughly 3,000 kilometres (1,900 mi) removed from the Sintashta-Petrovka area), and that it was either an early Iranian culture, or an unknown branch of Indo-Iranian that did not survive into historical times.
In pseudoarchaeology and national mysticism
Since its discovery, Arkaim has attracted public and media attention in Russia, from a broad range of the population, including esoteric, New Age and pseudoscientific organizations. It is said to be the most enigmatic archaeological site within the territory of Russia, and as with many archaeological discoveries, many conflicting interpretations have been put forward.
In order to gain publicity, the early investigators described Arkaim as "Swastika City", "Mandala City", and "the ancient capital of early Aryan civilization, as described in the Avesta and Vedas". The swastika description refers to the floor plan of the site, which (with some imagination) may appear similar to the swastika symbol, albeit with rounded arms (similar to the lauburu) attached to a central ring instead of a cross.
The similarity of latitude, date, and size led some archaeoastronomists (Bystrushkin 2003) to compare Arkaim with Stonehenge in England. According to their claims, the Neolithic observatory at Stonehenge allowed for observation of 15 astronomical phenomena using 22 elements, whereas the contemporaneous observatory at Arkaim allowed for observation of 18 astronomical phenomena using 30 elements. The precision of measurements in Stonehenge is estimated at 10 arc-minutes to a degree, that in Arkaim being put at 1 arc-minute. Such a precision of astronomical observations was not repeated until the compilation of Almagest about 2 millennia later. The interpretation as an observatory for either Stonehenge or Arkaim is not universally accepted.
- List of archaeoastronomical sites by country