The summer solstice is over so we can finally get back to talking about some other stone circles and Neolithic structures besides Stonehenge. A new discovery just a stone’s throw away from Stonehenge dwarfs its more famous neighbor and may have had purposes far beyond those of merely lining up with the solstices.
“The area around Stonehenge is amongst the most studied archaeological landscapes on earth and it is remarkable that the application of new technology can still lead to the discovery of such a massive prehistoric structure which, currently, is significantly larger than any comparative prehistoric monument that we know of in Britain, at least.”
In a press release by the University of Bradford announcing the discovery, whose details, illustrations and photographs have been published in the Internet Archeology journal, Professor Vince Gaffney, Chair of the School of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences in the Faculty of Life Sciences, describes the surprises archeologists continue to find after switching from digging to ground-penetrating radar to investigate possible monolith sites.
This one, about 1.9 miles (3 km) from Stonehenge, had strange pits that were once thought to be natural landscape features. However, since they were so close to the Durrington Walls – the site of the remnants of a huge Neolithic village (an estimated 1,000 houses) and suitably impressive henge of its own (the second-largest in Britain) -- the pits deserved a closer, albeit non-invasive look. Enter the Stonehenge Hidden Landscape Project, whose mission is to create “a cutting-edge geophysical and remote sensing survey at unprecedented scale.”
“When these pits were first noted it was thought they might be natural features - solution hollows in the chalk. Only when the larger picture emerged, through the geophysical surveys undertaken as part of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscape Project, could we join the dots and see there was a pattern on a massive scale.”
According to Gaffney, the project has identified 20 shafts or pits in a 2 km (1.2 mile) wide ring with the Durrington Walls in the center and Woodhenge close to it. The shafts are up to 10 meters (33 feet) across and 5 meters (16.5) feet deep. The project suspects there are more (perhaps 30 in all) and they may have been deeper at one time. Once they were found, the quest to determine their purpose began.
“As the place where the builders of Stonehenge lived and feasted Durrington Walls is key to unlocking the story of the wider Stonehenge landscape, and this astonishing discovery offers us new insights into the lives and beliefs of our Neolithic ancestors.”
While other sites have used similar shafts for storage, the distance away from the center suggests these had different purposes. Not surprisingly, they seem to align with the solstices. Their distance from the center is so consistent, one thought is that they formed a boundary that offered both protection and directions for visitors. The enormous scale suggests these Neolithic people were more talented than once thought and that the areas around other henges should be checked for similar wider structures using ground-penetrating radar.
With the advent of these new techniques for non-invasive archeology, one can no longer say that looking for Neolithic structures is the pits.