In 2007, when professor Srikumar M Menon from the Manipal School of Architecture and Planning, Manipal University, went on a trip to the Nagara Fort at Byse, he chanced upon some tall standing stones. Villagers told him that the stones had been around for a “long time”.
Now, for the first time, researchers from the Mumbai-based Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) and Manipal University have found that the 26 megalithic stones dating prior to 1,000BC were used by inhabitants as an astronomical observatory. The collection of stones was discovered at Byse, 140 km from Mangalore.
Between 2007 and 2010, the team surveyed all the 26 stones, of which 13 are still standing. The largest menhir is 3.6 m tall, 1.6 m wide and 25 cm thick. Using global positioning system, the location of all the 26 stones for various alignments to the sunrise and sunset points on the earth’s horizon for both solstice were studied and simulated on a computer. The team found a total of 19 stone alignments that indicated shortest and longest days and also reconfirmed their simulated findings on the site to find that sunrise and sunset matched with the location and shadows of the stones.
Though carbon dating of these stones is yet to be done, researchers believe the stones belong to the Austro-Asiatic period dating back to at least 1,000BC or even beyond.
“Iron came to India only in 1,000BC. But these stones are huge chunks of rough-cut rocks placed there,” said Mayank Vahia, astrophysicist, TIFR, adding that the institute will procure a carbon-dating machine soon.