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Unique Pentagonal Temple October 11, 2000
by Erling Ho

[image] Scholars are debating whether this Iron Age temple recently found in Sweden had a roof. (Toralf Fors/Arkeologikonsult) [LARGER IMAGE]

Excavation of a burial ground in Västerhaninge, 15 miles south of Stockholm, has yielded an unusual Iron Age temple composed of six postholes, up to three feet in diameter and five and one-half feet deep, lined with sturdy stone packings and laid out in a near perfect pentagon. "In size and shape, it is unique in Sweden," says Lindsay Lloyd-Smith, a British archaeologist working at the site.

Within an elevated, red sandstone and granite threshold, the fifth post of the pentagon had been split into two, which the archaeologists believe marked the entrance to the structure. The sides of the pentagon are 23 feet long. In its center is a burial pit with ashes from cremated bones, and around this pit a partly preserved clay floor has been found. A small piece of a gold thread found in the pit indicates that the remains found there date to the Late Roman Iron Age A.D. 150-345.

At present, archaeologists are studying the possibility that the posts supported walls, roof, or both. As there is no sign of any support post within the pentagon, a roof would have spanned some 40 feet. Lloyd-Smith believes the diameter and depth of the postholes, their stone packings, and the well-preserved condition of the clay floor indicates that the structure had a roof, but Frands Herschend, an archaeologist at Uppsala University, thinks this is improbable. "We do not know of any roof with a span more than 30 feet until the Middle Ages," he says. Herschend hypothesizes that the posts may have been as tall as the length of the pentagon's sides, 23 feet, and that this could explain the ample dimensions of the postholes. "The Golden Section [a geometric principle involving the proportions of a bisected line] is expressed in the pentagon. By using posts which were 23 feet high, the proportions of the Golden Section would have also been visible in the structure's third dimension," he says, adding, "When you come into contact with the Romans, you learn practical geometry."

© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America