Jun 30, 2017 I Paul Seaburn

The First Stone Circle May Have Actually Been a Square

Fans of the classic television game show Hollywood Squares will remember what host Peter Marshall exclaimed when the player representing ‘O’ determined correctly if a celebrity was bluffing or telling the truth: “Circle gets the square.” That same exclamation could be shouted today about news that archeologists using ground penetrating radar have discovered a mysterious square structure buried inside the famous Avebury Neolithic stone circle. Since this is the first square henge ever found in Britain or continental Europe, it may justify new excavations at the site.

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Aerial view of Avebury henge and stone circle (Credit: English Heritage)

“We discovered something really weird. In a landscape of circles, we’ve suddenly got a square and lines. Slap bang in the middle of this monumental structure you’ve got a Neolithic house. “It’s very strange and it shows that before we got the structure we see today there had been 1,000 years of jiggery-pokery.”

What the excited Dr. Mark Gillings, a reader in archaeology at the University of Leicester, is describing in an interview with The Telegraph is what the researchers from the University of Leicester and University of Southampton found in the middle of the Southern Inner Circle surrounding an obelisk -- evidence of a wooden house surrounded by a square henge. The Neolithic timber building seems to have been built in a mid-fourth millennium BCE style, measuring 10 by 6 meters (33 by 20 feet). It appears the building may have belonged to someone important, possibly the founder of Avebury, because the evidence shows that the 17 stones making up the square henge built around it a few hundred years later were aligned with the walls.

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A model of the original square monument with the huge obelisk in the center (Credit: School of Archaeology & Ancient History, University of Leicester)

The big news is that the house and the square henge predate both Avebury’s main stone circle and Stonehenge by up to a thousand years to as early as 4000 BCE. That would make it the oldest standing stone complex in England and the same age as the oldest ones in Scotland. Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust archaeologist at Avebury, describes what this means:

“The new research pushes back the origins of Avebury to an earlier period and reveals the remarkable complexity of the history and construction of the complex. The work demonstrates just how much still awaits discovery in and around this world famous site.”

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The  ground plan of the Southern Inner Circle showing locations of the newly discovered standing stones in blue

Exploration of the Avebury site stopped at the start of World War II, which explains why the square henge has never been discovered despite being just two meters (6.6 feet) underground. Will the discovery of what may be the first house in Avebury and the first square henge in Europe convince the National Trust to allow excavations again?

If that happens, Avebury Circle really would get the square.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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