Archaeologists working near Stonehenge have found that habitation in the area started at least 3,000 years before the famous monument was built.
The BBC reports that a team of archaeologists working at Amesbury next to a stream a mile from Stonehenge have found evidence that hunter-gatherers were frequenting the site well before Stonehenge was started around 3000 B.C.
The site is the closest source of water to Stonehenge and therefore would have been of prime importance for the local hunter-gatherers during the Mesolithic, the period before the Neolithic farming era when Stonehenge was started. Not only would it have been important as a water source and for the plants that grew along its banks, but hunters could have bagged the animals that came to drink there. Carbon dates from butchered animal bones at the site give ages of 6250 B.C., 5400 B.C. and 4700 B.C.
The excavation is run by David Jacques, a tutor at Open Univeristy. A hundred Open University students and other members of the public volunteered for the dig, which is running on a shoestring budget. The excavation has also uncovered material from later periods, including a pair of duck figurines dating from 700 B.C. Open University has an interesting video about the dig dating from 2011, before the important radiocarbon dates came in.
[Photo courtesy Flickr user Jeffrey]
Recent excavations around Stonehenge have shown that the famous monument didn’t stand alone in the landscape; it was part of a network of monuments that developed over time.
One of the most enigmatic is Bluestonehenge, a mile away from Stonehenge and only excavated a few years ago. It was a stone circle much like Stonehenge, although now all that remains are the holes where the stones were placed around 3000 BC. Fragments of rock in the holes show the stones were originally bluestones, imported from Wales and also used for the inner circle of Stonehenge. In fact, some archaeologists believe they were removed from Bluestonehenge and incorporated into Stonehenge around 2500 BC.
Now a new analysis using a smartphone app (of all things!) indicates that Bluestonehenge might have originally been an oval. Past Horizons reports that archaeologist Henry Rothwell was working on a smartphone app about the Stonehenge landscape when he noticed something strange about the known holes of Bluestonehenge and those that hadn’t yet been uncovered. When he made a reconstruction of the site using the existing holes, they didn’t form a neat circle, but rather an oval.
In fact this oval is the same orientation and shape as Stonehenge and another site in the area–Woodhenge. Both Stonehenge and Woodhenge are aligned on the mid-summer and mid-winter solstices, and if Rothwell’s reconstruction is correct, then Bluestonehenge is as well. This makes a whole network of monumental sites stretching across centuries of history, all aligned to work as prehistoric calendars.
[Photo courtesy Steve Walker]
Move over Stonehenge, there’s a bigger stone circle in town.
Archaeologists are busy excavating Marden Henge, a giant stone circle and earthwork ten times larger than its more famous cousin. It’s not nearly as well-known, however, because all of its stones have been lost or buried. Traces of a giant earthwork and ditch that encircled the monument do survive, and archaeologists hope they’ll reveal secrets of England’s prehistoric past.
While everyone knows about Stonehenge, many people don’t realize there are nearly a thousand stone circles in the British Isles, from massive ones like Avebury (shown here) to smaller ones like the Rollright Stones. Marden Henge is in Wiltshire, close to Stonehenge and Avebury, and could provide clues to how and why they were constructed. The giant circle encloses about 15 hectares (37 acres) and has a mound at its center. Archaeologists plan to investigate both the central mound and the earthwork and ditch. The Neolithic farmers who built these monuments often put sacrifices in the surrounding ditches.
While there are no current plans for a visitor’s center at Marden Henge, there are plenty of other stone circles open to the public. Some of the more famous cater to visitors with interpretive signs and parking lots, while others simply stand in open fields, an enduring part of Europe’s ancient landscape. An excellent website to help you plan a visit is The Megalithic Portal, which includes information on stone circles and other megaliths such as barrows (tombs) and menhirs (individual standing stones) in the UK and all around the world.