Reading the Stars

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Archaeologists recently discovered that a 2,500-year-old artificial lake off the west coast of Sicily was actually one of the Mediterranean’s largest sacred pools, CNN reported.

The huge body of water – longer and wider than an Olympic-sized swimming pool – is located on the island of San Pantaleo, which once housed the bustling Phoenician port city of Motya.

First discovered in the 1920s, previous archaeological teams believed the pool was a Kothon, an artificial harbor.

But years of excavations revealed that the artificial lake – which was not connected to the sea – was fed by natural springs and was at the center of a large religious compound.

In 2010, archaeologists unearthed what they determined to be the Temple of Ba’al – a Canaanite and Phoenician deity – on the edge of the artificial lake.

This finding prompted the archeological team led by Lorenzo Nigro to drain the basin in order to excavate more thoroughly.

In their new study, Nigro’s team came across more temples along the basin, as well as altars and a pedestal at the center of the lake that once held the statue of Orion – known as Ba’al to the Phoenicians.

They also found that the religious complex was laid out in alignment with the stars. They suggested that the pool’s horizontal surface was used as a reflective tool to map the movements of the stars, which is important for navigation as well as observing certain religious holidays at the time.

The authors wrote how the stars and constellations were regarded by the Phoenicians as gods and sacred ancestors, and followed very closely.

“This points to the deep knowledge of the sky reached by ancient civilizations,” said Nigro.

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