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Major Discovery: 4,500-year-old megalithic super-henge found buried one mile from Stonehenge

Major Discovery: 4,500-year-old megalithic super-henge found buried one mile from Stonehenge

An enormous row of 90 megalithic stones has been found buried beneath the prehistoric super-henge of Durrington Walls earthworks, only one mile from the world-famous site of Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England. The huge line of megalithic stones lies 3 feet underground and has just been discovered through the use of sophisticated radar equipment. The finding is believed to have been a huge ritual monument.

“We’re looking at one of the largest stone monuments in Europe and it has been under our noses for something like 4,000 years… It’s truly remarkable.” said Professor Vince Gaffney, from the University of Bradford and co-director of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project, which made the discovery. “We don’t think there’s anything quite like this anywhere else in the world. This is completely new and the scale is extraordinary,” he added.

The discovery was announced at the opening of the British Science Festival in Bradford, and has been described as the most exciting finding of Neolithic Britain for many years.

The Irish Times , which has been reporting live from the Science Festival, reports that the giant monoliths are up to 15 feet (4.5 meters) tall, and are believed to be sarsen stones – sandstone blocks which were also used for the heelstone and circle uprights at Stonehenge. The stones are lying horizontally and archaeologists believe they were deliberately pushed over and covered with earth.

“Not only does the new evidence demonstrate a completely unexpected phase of monumental architecture at one of the greatest ceremonial sites in prehistoric Europe, the new stone row could well be contemporary with the famous Stonehenge sarsen circle or even earlier,” said Professor Gaffney.

A reconstruction depicting how the row of megalithic stones would have looked. Credit: Ludwig Boltzmann Institute.

The row of megalithic stones formed the southern arm of a c-shaped ritual enclosure, which faced directly towards the River Avon, the rest of which was made up of an artificially scarped natural elevation in the ground. The monument was later converted from a c-shaped to a roughly circular enclosure, now known as Durrington Walls – Britain’s largest pre-historic henge, roughly 12 times the size of Stonehenge itself.

Durrington Walls measures around 1,640 feet (500 meters) in diameter and is surrounded by a ditch of up to 54ft (16 meters) wide and a bank of more than three foot (1 meter) high. It is built on the same summer solstice alignment as Stonehenge. The enormous structure is believed to have formed a gigantic ceremonial complex in the Stonehenge landscape.

“It was probably for a ritual of some sort or it could have marked out an arena,” said Professor Gaffney. “These monuments were very theatrical. This a design to impress and empower.”

One theory is that the row of megaliths marked a ritual procession route.

  • Fifteen previously unknown monuments discovered underground in Stonehenge landscape
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  • Radar finds HUNDREDS more megalithic monuments, chapels, and shrines around Stonehenge

The c-shaped structure of Durrington Walls with the line of newly-discovered megaliths along the southern arm.

The completed super-henge after the stones were toppled over and buried. Credit: Ludwig Boltzmann Institute.

“These latest results have produced tantalising evidence of what lies beneath the ancient earthworks at Durrington Walls,” Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust Archaeologist for the Avebury and Stonehenge World Heritage Site, told The Telegraph . “The presence of what appear to be stones, surrounding the site of one of the largest Neolithic settlements in Europe adds a whole new chapter to the Stonehenge story.”

Featured image: The earliest phase of Durrington Walls with its line of megaliths.


Major new ancient discovery as important as Stonehenge made thanks to Irish heatwave

The circle was found by Anthony Murphy, founder of Mythical Ireland, who used drones around the Brú na Bóinne area to take photos on July 10, 2018. It is said that the potentially 4,500-year-old circle was uncovered because of the dry weather conditions.

Thrilled to have discovered a previously unknown "new" henge monument near Newgrange last night. Archaeologists tell me that this is a very major find. It appears to be similar in design and size to the nearby Site P, a recorded henge. Exciting times! https://t.co/Mp2pWY26Dr pic.twitter.com/CIdPSTCEJX

Murphy highlighted that it was revealed because post holes and pits in the ground held moisture better than the surrounding soil, so the circular formation appeared greener.

Read more

“This is a once in a lifetime kind of thing… To say I was absolutely gobsmacked, amazed and delighted is an understatement,” Murphy told The Journal.

Thanks to the recent heatwave, a concealed henge has been discovered close to Newgrange at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Brú na Bóinne, County Meath! #IrelandsAncientEasthttps://t.co/mcaEjQcTtV pic.twitter.com/AIAx9YuCvx

— Discover Ireland (@DiscoverIreland) July 12, 2018

“If these turn out to be substantial discoveries, then I would be nothing short of utterly elated, chuffed and excited.”

Murphy added that the weather was crucial to the discovery: “I have flown a drone over the Boyne Valley regularly and have never seen this.”

The heatwave is believed to have led to the discovery of a possible henge close to Newgrange in Co Meath. It's thought it could have been built 500 years after Newgrange, which dates from 3,000 BC. | https://t.co/1BMuh05WNX pic.twitter.com/Fsw6ozmcmF

— RTÉ News (@rtenews) July 11, 2018

Newgrange dates from approximately 3,000 BC, but this new find could have been constructed 500 years after the UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Irish Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has described the uncovering of the 656-foot wide circle as “a very significant find”.

Read more

“When the crop is harvested all surface traces of this monument will vanish and we may not see this monument again for two or three decades depending on when we get another prolonged dry spell like this.”

One archaeologist, Dr. Geraldine Stout, indicated that this find could be indicative of a much larger sacred landscape full of numerous facilities for ancient pilgrims to Newgrange.

“Generally we believe these henge monuments were built up to 500 years after the main use of Newgrange and in a lot of cases they actually enclose the area of monuments.”

Currently, the public is not permitted to access the site as it is in a privately-owned location.

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University College Dublin | It Is 5,200 Year Old Passage Tomb

The newly discovered tomb, seen here from the south – west, was unearthed when workmen using a mechanical digger overturned a large stone slab above it, revealing the chamber beneath. The earliest accounts of Jesus’ burial come from the Canonical Gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, which are believed to have been composed decades after Christ’s crucifixion around A. D. 30. According to Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, the Roman temple was razed and excavations beneath it revealed a rock – cut tomb. The presence of other tombs of the period is important archaeological evidence, according to Magness.

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht unveiled the 5,500 year old passage tomb cemetery discovered.

Archaeologists in Ireland made a major new discovery at The Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site in July 2018, revealing a 5,500-year – old megalithic passage tomb cemetery that is being described as a “find of a lifetime”. Newgrange has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Their survey made use of satellite – based remote sensing, drones, airborne laser scanning and geophysics to survey Brú na Boinne ( which is Irish for the Palace of the Boyne ) refers to the area within the bend of the River Boyne in Co. Meath that contains one of the world’s most important prehistoric landscapes.

“This is the most significant megalithic find in Ireland in the last 50 years, since the excavation of Knowth”, said Dr. Stephen Davis of the UCD School of Archaeology of the latest megalithic tomb find.

During his excavations, Professor Michael O’Kelly began the first archaeological excavation of the site. Instead, he stood inside the central underground room at Newgrange is built so that as the sun rises around the time of the winter solstice it illuminates the whole chamber through what is called a roof box. A team led by a Kingston University of Cincinnati ( UC ) have discovered two 6,000-year – old tombs from the Bronze Age in a find that promises to shed light what life was like in ancient Greece. Your email address nor the recipient’s address will be used for any other purpose. Preseli Hills rock source.

Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England. Professor Mike Parker Pearson, an archaeologist at University College London ( UCL ), made a breakthrough in understanding the famed monument when he found a similar stone structure at Waun Mawn. University College Dublin. Matthew Sibson, an ancient history and civilisations expert, believes there are still many secrets to uncover and in his most recent video, he explores a little – known opening at the back of the Sphinx which may lead to a Pharaoh’s ancient burial chamber below. An expedition working near Luxor has stumbled upon the remains of a lost ancient Egyptian city, in what is being hailed as the most significant archaeological discovery in the region since the 1920s. The ancient city, which is named The Rise of Aten dates back to the reign of Amenhotep III of the 18th dynasty. Amenhotep III, who ruled ancient Egypt between 1391 B. C. and 1353 B. C., built the main portions of the Luxor and Karnak temples in the ancient town of Thebes. Waun Mawn is now being tipped as the original monument because it lies next to quarries where Stonehenge’s smaller bluestones originate, its perimeter ditch has the same diameter and is also aligned on the midsummer solstice sunrise. Archaeologists stated that this could explain why the bluestones used at Stonehenge were brought from so far away, while most circles have openings for people or animals to walk through, so it’s unlikely that they are usually constructed within a short distance of their quarries.

Hirebenakal is also a large burial site that can offer insights into our past. This makes Hirebenakal an important site for archaeologists and anthropologists trying to uncover the mysteries of the lives of our ancestors as they made the transition from the Neolithic Age ( New Stone Age ) to the Iron Age. By the 19th century, this too was gone. From a higher vantage point, the slab – supported granite dolmens look like a field of giant mushrooms with their tops lopped off. Considering the spectacular nature of this prehistoric site, greater efforts need to be taken to preserve its sanctity while also making it better known. An underground chamber discovered accidentally by road workers may be the site of the earliest Christian royal burial ever found in Britain, archaeologists say, calling it the Anglo – Saxon equivalent of King Tutankhamun’s tomb. The chamber, uncovered between a road and a railway line in the southeastern English village of Prittlewell in 2003, turned out to be a 1,400-year – old tomb. Treasures unearthed at the site include a golden belt buckle, the remnants of a harp – like instrument known as a lyre, gleaming glassware and an elaborate water vessel from the eastern Mediterranean, perhaps Syria. Fragments of tooth enamel – the only human remains uncovered – revealed he was over 6 years old, and the size of the coffin suggests he was about 5 foot 8 inches ( 1.73 meters ) tall.

Remains of an ancient monument in west Wales indicate stones that stood at the site may have been dismantled and used to build the Neolithic standing circle Stonehenge, a new study suggested Friday. And now for the mother load of mysterious stones : Meet Super – Henge, a massive stone monument located just 2 miles(3.2 km ) from Stonehenge in the U. K. The huge monument, which is made up of a collection of stone monoliths, was unearthed in 2015. Along with the nearby burial ground of Tushka, Gebel Sahaba comprises the site of Wadi Halfa, and in the region that would eventually fall under the domain of the First Nome in Upper Egypt. Though an abundance of people once called Jebel Qurma home, its climate is now inhospitable, and very few people live there. And a new analysis of ancient human DNA from Newgrange, researchers found evidence of brother – sister incest that suggests that the ancient Irish may have had more than monumental grave markers in common with the pharaohs. Llwyd’s brief letter contains the earliest description of the megalithic tomb of Newgrange following the initial, highly unscientific, exploration of the site. A separate excavation in another part of northern Greece, Amphipolis, in 2014 led to the discovery of the largest ancient tomb of Aristotle. It is a pre – historic passage tomb found in County Meath, Ireland. A recent discovery reveals the Ural Mountains are still full of secrets.

I have claimed that 5,000-year – old neolithic tombs in County Sligo are suffering vandalism on a “scale never seen before” with experts warning that the sites for himself and he assures me that he will not survive unless serious action is taken. On Friday a team of archaeologists reported in the journal Antiquity that they had unearthed a stone circle in Pembrokeshire, Wales, part of which they believe was dismantled, hauled 175 miles to Salisbury Plain and reassembled as Stonehenge. In an interview, Dr. Parker Pearson said his investigators had a “terrible time” trying to find evidence of a proto – Stonehenge. Dr. Parker Pearson said.


'Superhenge' of 90 Buried Stones Discovered Near Stonehenge

Move over, Stonehenge. A collection of up to 90 stones dating back thousands of years has been discovered beneath the Durrington Walls 'superhenge' monument.

The stones, which may originally have stood 4.5 meters (14 ft) in height, were found buried under Durrington Walls&mdasha 4,500 year-old stone bank located around 3 km (1.8 miles) from the Stonehenge monument in Wiltshire, southwest England.

Stonehenge consists of the remains of a ring of standing stones and is classed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The monument is believed to have been built around 5,000-4,000 years ago and the largest stones at Stonehenge&mdashknown as sarsens&mdashare up to nine meters (30 ft) tall and weigh an average of 25 tonnes. Scientists are baffled as to how prehistoric people were able to transport the stones and build the monument, which is believed to have had religious significance.

The team behind the discovery think the underground stones could even predate Stonehenge. They believe that the newly-discovered stones were pushed over and a bank at Durrington Walls built on top. The Telegraph reported that the stones probably marked a ritual procession route. Vince Gaffney, an archaeologist at the University of Bradford, told The Telegraph that the discovery was "completely unique" and added: "We've never seen anything like this in the world."


Prehistoric stone circle 4500-years-old found near Stonehenge

Edinburgh: A team of archaeologists has discovered a major new prehistoric monument just a short distance away from Stonehenge.

Fieldwork and analysis have revealed evidence of 20 or more massive prehistoric shafts - more than 10 metres in diameter and five metres deep - forming a circle more than two kilometres in diameter around the Durrington Walls henge.

Coring of the shafts suggests the features are Neolithic and were excavated more than 4500 years ago - around the time Durrington Walls was built.

The shafts form a circle more than two kilometres in diameter which encloses an area greater than three square kilometres around the Durrington Walls henge, one of Britain’s largest henge monuments and close to Stonehenge. Credit: AAP

It is thought the shafts served as a boundary to a sacred area or precinct associated with the henge.

Experts from the University of St Andrews were joined by counterparts from institutes including Birmingham, Warwick, the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, and the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre at the University of Glasgow.

Dr Richard Bates, of the university's School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said: "Yet again, the use of a multidisciplinary effort with remote sensing and careful sampling is giving us an insight to the past that shows an even more complex society than we could ever imagine.

The annual Summer Solstice at Stonehenge was cancelled this year because of the coronavirus. Credit: AAP

"Clearly sophisticated practices demonstrate that the people were so in tune with natural events to an extent that we can barely conceive in the modern world we live in today."

Tim Kinnaird, of the same school, said: "The sedimentary infills contain a rich and fascinating archive of previously unknown environmental information. "With optically stimulated luminescence profiling and dating, we can write detailed narratives of the Stonehenge landscape for the last 4000 years."

The announcement of the discovery comes after the Summer Solstice, which took place online this year with the annual gathering cancelled due to coronavirus.

English Heritage has provided access to the event since 2000 but warned visitors not to travel to the 3000 BC Neolithic monument this year.


'Super-henge' found buried near Stonehenge

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The remains of a massive stone monument, 15 times the size of Stonehenge and located just 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) away from the famous site, were recently discovered by British archaeologists.

The stone monoliths were found buried beneath the bank of the Durrington Walls "super-henge," one of the largest-known henges in the United Kingdom, and could have been part of a huge Neolithic monument, the researchers said.

The finding, announced on Saturday (Sept. 7) at the British Science Festival in Yorkshire, could mean that everything researchers think they know about Stonehenge may need to be "rewritten," according to Paul Garwood, a senior lecturer in archaeology at the University of Birmingham, in the United Kingdom, and the principal pre-historian for the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project — the group that discovered the stones using noninvasive, remote-sensing technologies. [Gallery: Stunning Photos of Stonehenge]

It is not yet clear whether the stones were put in place at the same time as those of Stonehenge, nor do the researchers know how the stones were used. However, those who study the mysterious rock monuments of the U.K. previously thought that only Stonehenge and one smaller henge located near the famous monument featured significant stone monuments. Now they know that isn't the case.

The 90 or so huge stones discovered at Durrington Walls may have originally stood nearly 15 feet (4.5 meters) high before they were pushed over some 4,500 years ago, according to the researchers. The stones were then buried under a bank of earth that measures about 130 feet (40 m) across and nearly 10 feet (3 m) high in some places. This massive bank forms the outer perimeter of the Durrington Walls "super-henge."

Durrington Walls is also surrounded by a 58-foot-long (17.6 m) ditch that forms an enclosure around an area that is approximately equivalent to 1 mile (1.5 km) of land. Inside the bank of the henge are a few smaller enclosures and timber-ringed circles. The massive landscape monument is associated with a settlement dating back about 4,500 years, to the Late Neolithic period, the researchers said.

The super-henge was constructed at the site of a natural depression in the landscape near the river Avon that was surrounded by a chalk scarp, or sharply edged hill. The newfound stones may have formed an artificial wall to the south of the hill, creating a C-shaped "arena" that once could have been the location of springs and a valley leading into the Avon, according to the researchers.

While none of the stones have been excavated yet, the researchers think they could be related to the only large stone within the Durrington Walls henge. Known as the "Cuckoo Stone," the presence of the 7-foot by 5-foot (2 m by 1.5 m) block of sarsen stone suggests that the buried stones may also be sarsen stones — the same, locally sourced stones that were used to build Stonehenge.

"This discovery of a major new stone monument, which has been preserved to a remarkable extent, has significant implications for our understanding of Stonehenge and its landscape setting," Vincent Gaffney, professor in the School of Archeological Sciences at the University of Bradford in the U.K., said in a statement. While researchers have yet to excavate any of the stones, it's possible that they were brought to the site of Durrington Walls at the same time that similar stones were brought to Stonehenge.

Last year, Gaffney and other researchers with the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project announced the results of a four-year survey of the landscape around Stonehedge. The survey was performed using the same noninvasive technologies, such as ground-penetrating radar, that led to the discovery of the huge stones under Durrington Walls.

In their survey, the researchers found that Stonehenge is far from a lonely pile of massive rocks standing in a field. It's actually part of a complex network of so-called "ritual monuments" that includes other areas encircled by wooden posts, timber, stones or earthen banks. The researchers also found that the Cursus, an enclosed, rectangular area to the north of Stonehenge, features two ditches at either end that line up with the Stonehenge's "avenues," or processional paths leading in and out of Stonehenge, which align with the sun's movement during the midsummer solstice.

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Beaker graves

Foremost among the latest finds are several graves, unearthed just to the southwest of the Stonehenge circle, that are thought to be from the Beaker culture, which is named after their practice of burying the dead with bell-shaped pottery drinking vessels. The Beaker people lived in Western Europe between 4,800 and 3,800 years ago, beginning in the Chalcolithic period when the first copper tools came into use. In one of the graves., the researchers found a simple pot alongside the remains of a baby, though only the ear bones remain. Another pit nearby contains the remains of a woman who died in her 20s, her body crouched around a relatively ornate pot or beaker. The research team also found a fragment of a copper awl or needle and a mysterious cylindrical shale object, perhaps part of a staff or club, in her grave.

Both graves are thought to be about 4,500 years old, which would make them about the same age as the smaller "bluestones" around and within the main circle of large sandstone "sarsens" at Stonehenge, Leivers said.

Buried caches of other ancient artifacts, including pottery vessels, flints, and deer antlers that may have been used for digging have also been found along the planned tunnel route.

"Stonehenge was built over a very long period of time even individual phases of its construction could have taken years or decades to complete," he said. "It's entirely conceivable that the people who left those things behind or who were buried nearby had some role in Stonehenge's construction."

The preliminary investigations have also unearthed ditches to the southeast of the monument that could be part of an Iron Age fort known locally as "Vespasian&rsquos Camp" &mdash named after the Roman general, later emperor, who led a military force in the area during the Roman invasion of Britain after A.D. 43. Even so, there&rsquos no evidence the fort had anything to do with him.

The archaeologists also found a pattern of buried ditches south of the graves that appears to form an enclosure. It seems to date from a period in the middle to late Bronze Age, after about 3500 years ago, when there was a settlement nearby, Leivers said. He added that the team found large quantities of burned flint in the soil around it, perhaps indicating that some dirty or smelly activities took place there.


Stonehenge researchers 'may have found largest Neolithic site'

The 4,500-year-old stones, some measuring 15ft (4.5m) in length, were discovered under 3ft of earth at Durrington Walls "superhenge".

The monument was on "an extraordinary scale" and unique, researchers said.

The Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes team has been creating an underground map of the area in a five-year project.

Remote sensing and geophysical imaging technology has been used to reveal evidence of nearly 100 stones without the need for excavation.

The monument is just under two miles (3km) from Stonehenge, Wiltshire, and is thought to have been a Neolithic ritual site.

Experts think it may have surrounded traces of springs and a dry valley leading into the River Avon.

Although no stones have been excavated they are believed to be fashioned from sarsen blocks found locally.

Sarsen stones are sandstone blocks found mainly on Salisbury Plain and the Marlborough Downs in Wiltshire.

A unique sarsen standing stone, The Cuckoo Stone, remains in the field next to Durrington Walls.

The stones are believed to have been deliberately toppled over the south-eastern edge of the bank of the circular enclosure before being incorporated into it.

Lead researcher Vince Gaffney, of the University of Bradford, said: "We don't think there's anything quite like this anywhere else in the world.

"This is completely new and the scale is extraordinary."

Archaeologist Nick Snashall said: "The presence of what appear to be stones, surrounding the site of one of the largest Neolithic settlements in Europe adds a whole new chapter to the Stonehenge story."

The earthwork enclosure at Durrington Walls was built about a century after the Stonehenge sarsen circle, but archaeologists believe the newly discovered stone row could have been put in place at the same time or even earlier.

Andy Rhind-Tutt, Heritage Trust founder, described the findings as "an incredible discovery".

He and University of Buckingham researchers have been involved in another nearby site, Blick Mead, thought to be at least 9,500 years old.

Mr Rhind-Tutt fears this and other sites could be damaged or lost to a planned A303 road tunnel past Stonehenge.

"It's a big concern to all of us, especially as we are at the tip of the iceberg with this particular discovery, and it would be horrible to destroy one of the most significant sites in the world," he said.

"The hidden treasure trove of the Stonehenge landscape just begs the question about why are all these incredible structures here?"

David Jacques, from the University of Buckingham, who is Blick Mead project manager, described the find as "absolutely brilliant "and a "game changer".

"All the monuments have a relationship with each other," he said.

"So rather than just ɺtomising' them and looking at them as individual entities there are deliberate lines of sight or knowledge that things are just over the hill.

"When you put that together in the late Neolithic - there's something vibrant, exciting and dynamic [about the find]."

The findings were being announced on the first day of the British Science Festival being held at the University of Bradford.


Underground mega-monument found near Stonehenge

Stonehenge, shown here, is arguably the most famous ancient site in Britain. But hidden nearby are ancient pits that are equally old and mysterious engineering marvels.

Nicholas E Jones/iStock/Getty Images Plus

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Land surrounding the site of what was once an ancient village in Great Britain turned up a huge surprise: massive underground shafts. Surrounding the town, the formation has a diameter of more than two kilometers (1.2 miles). Each hole has straight sides and is filled with loose soil.

The shafts date to a time known as the Neolithic, or late Stone Age. They were dug more than 4,500 years ago near another ancient site of far greater fame — Stonehenge. Over the millennia, the shafts filled with dirt and became overgrown. From the surface, you wouldn’t know they were there.

Scientists Say: Archaeology

Archaeologists had known since 1916 that some holes lurked underground. They suspected they were small sinkholes. Or maybe they had once been shallow ponds to water cattle. Ground-penetrating radar now has revealed that these were no cattle ponds. Each hole goes down five meters (16.4 feet) and spans 20 meters (65.6 feet) across. So far 20 holes have been found. These are, researchers now think, part of one of the biggest Neolithic monuments in Europe.

Researchers from the University of Bradford in England made the discovery. They were part of a Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project. This is a partnership of several universities and research organizations. A paper describing their find was published June 21 in the online journal Internet Archaeology.

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Special places

The shafts surround the site of a Neolithic village called Durrington Walls. The village is three kilometers (about two miles) from Stonehenge. The builders of Stonehenge had lived — and partied — here while they erected the giant stones. Durrington Walls has its own henge. A henge is a wide ditch bounded by a bank of earthen work. It usually encloses a special site.

Builders had positioned the massive stones at Stonehenge to line up with the sun during each solstice (SOAL-stiss). Researchers are not sure why Stonehenge was built. Most agree, however, that it had some religious purpose. The purpose of the Durrington Walls shafts are equally mysterious.

Vince Gaffney is one of the researchers who made the new discovery. He thinks the arrangement of the pits — in a circle surrounding the henge — might mean they marked the boundary to some important space.

Stonehenge has a similar boundary — one often called the Stonehenge Envelope.

Burial mounds surround Stonehenge. Because the space is so clearly marked, archaeologists think only a few special people may have been allowed to enter Stonehenge’s central space.

Gaffney thinks that the Durrington Walls monument may have been used in much the same way. “The actual internal area [of Durrington Walls] could have been forbidden for most people. There may have been an internal fence.” So the holes may have been used to mark the point beyond which ordinary people were not allowed.

But there are differences, too, between the two sites. Stonehenge, with its burial mounds, is about the dead. In contrast, Durrington Walls is about the living. It was where people lived and feasted while they erected Stonehenge.

The newfound shafts around Durrington Walls suggest it also was a special, sacred place, Gaffney says.

The pits’ arrangement may be telling as well. They form a circle around the Durrington Walls henge. Each hole is spaced roughly the same distance from the central henge at Durrington Walls. Gaffney says this probably means the people who dug the holes paced them off. This would have required some kind of counting system, he notes.

In any case, he says, these enormous excavations show that “early farming societies were able to carry out massive construction projects at a much larger scale than we realized.”

Celebrating the landscape

Penny Bickle is an archaeologist at the University of York in England. She specializes in this period but wasn’t involved in the new discovery. People living back then often created monuments to frame views of natural features, she says. These features might be hills or water. The Durrington Walls monument may similarly have been some Stone Age way of celebrating nature.

Bickle’s less sure that the Durrington Walls pits point to anything new about a counting system, however. “Other sites and artifacts from that period suggest a similar understanding of measurements,” she says.

What’s next? Looking for more pits, says Gaffney. “We haven’t found them all,” he suspects. The ones they’ve found shape an arc, not quite a full circle. So, he says: “We need to keep surveying.”

Power Words

arc: A curve, often mapping out what appears to be part of a circle.

archaeology: (also archeology) The study of human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artifacts and other physical remains. Those remains can range from housing materials and cooking vessels to clothing and footprints. People who work in this field are known as archaeologists.

artifact: Some human-made object (such as a pot or brick) that can be used as one gauge of a community’s culture or history. (in statistics or experiments) Something measured or observed that is not naturally a part of some system. It was instead introduced accidentally as a result of how the measurement or study was performed.

cattle: Also known as bovines (because they’re members of the subfamily known as Bovinae), these are breeds of livestock raised as a source of milk and meat. Although the adult females are known as cows and the males as bulls, many people refer to them all, generally, as cows.

diameter: The length of a straight line that runs through the center of a circle or spherical object, starting at the edge on one side and ending at the edge on the far side.

excavation: A site where someone has systematically removed earth or rock to uncover buried materials of value, such as bones or artifacts.

ground-penetrating radar: A method of detecting the presence, position, distance or other important characteristics of objects (such as rocks or archeological artifacts) or substances (such as water or ice) underground. It works by sending out pulses of electromagnetic radiation that travel through earth and bounce off objects below. Scientists then measure how long it takes that bounced signal to return.

henge: An earthwork structure composed of a circular central area surrounded by a ditch, and outside of that, a raised earthen bank. Henges sometimes contain a circle of stones or wooden timbers. They also may contain pits or burial sites. (Stonehenge, perhaps the most famous prehistoric monument featuring a ring bank and ditch, is an exception to the usual form of a henge, in that the ditch is outside the bank.)

internet: An electronic communications network. It allows computers anywhere in the world to link into other networks to find information, download files and share data (including pictures).

journal: (in science) A publication in which scientists share their research findings with experts (and sometimes even the public). Some journals publish papers from all fields of science, technology, engineering and math, while others are specific to a single subject.

millennia: (singular: millennium) Thousands of years.

online: (n.) On the internet. (adj.) A term for what can be found or accessed on the internet.

radar: A system for calculating the position, distance or other important characteristic of a distant object. It works by sending out periodic radio waves that bounce off of the object and then measuring how long it takes that bounced signal to return. Radar can detect moving objects, like airplanes. It also can be used to map the shape of land — even land covered by ice.

sinkhole: A body of water that forms when a patch of ground opens up, revealing a rocky cavern below. That rocky structure then accumulates rainwater because there no opening below that allows the water to easily exit. Some sinkholes develop naturally. Others can result from the overpumping of any groundwater that may have collected in the rocky underground cavern. Sinkholes can be as small as a meter across or as large as a big lake.

solstice: These are the days in summer (in June in the northern hemisphere, in December in the southern hemisphere) when one of Earth’s poles is tilted closest to the sun. It becomes the day in summer when the sun reaches the highest point in the sky and the day in winter when it ascends to the lowest point in the sky. (These two days of the year, which vary by hemisphere, also have the shortest and the longest periods of darkness.)

Stone Age: A prehistoric period when weapons and tools were made of stone or of materials such as bone, wood, or horn. This period lasted millions of years and came to an end around 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.

Stonehenge: A monument made of large stones, located on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England.

Citations

Journal: V. Gaffney et al. A massive, late neolithic pit structure associated with Durrington Walls Henge. Internet Archaeology. Vol. 55, June 21, 2020. doi: 10.11141/ia.55.4.