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]