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]
England’s prehistoric landscape has a new addition.
Marlborough Mound in Wiltshire has long been a mystery. The flat-topped cone of earth looks like a smaller version of Silbury Hill, pictured here. The bigger mound was finished around 2300 BC at a time when Neolithic farmers were erecting stone circles such as Stonehenge and Avebury. Now archaeologists have taken samples from Marlborough Mound and carbon dated them to 2400 BC.
Carbon dating, which measures decaying carbon isotopes in organic matter, has a slight margin of error that increases the older the sample is. Thus Silbury Hill and Marlborough Mound may have been finished simultaneously, or at least in the same generation. The two mounds are only about 20 miles apart, a day’s walk for a Stone Age farmer or excited archaeologist.
The mound was reused several times. The Romans had a settlement next to it and the Normans built a castle on top of and around it in the late 11th or early 12th century. Early Norman castles were wooden palisades around an artificial mound. In this case their prehistoric predecessors saved them some work. The wooden walls were later replaced with stone ones but the castle has long since vanished. In the 17th century the mound was turned into a garden. The mound stands on the grounds of Marlborough College and is off-limits to visitors. Hopefully that will change now that its true importance is understood.
Britain’s most interesting monument just got a whole lot more interesting.
Archaeologists using subsurface imaging have discovered evidence of a circle of wooden posts about the same size as Stonehenge and just 900 meters (2,950 feet) away from it.
The Stonehenge Hidden Landscape Project plans to map features hidden under the surface in an area totaling 14 square kilometers (8.7 sq miles) around the famous monument. The mysterious feature was found only two weeks into the three-year survey.
The team picked up traces of postholes, where heavy wooden poles had once been sunk into the earth. The soil in these holes is of a different density than the undisturbed soil around them and show up on the subsurface imaging. The ring of posts appears to have had two openings opposite one another and was encircled by a ring of pits a meter wide. Archaeologists say it was built about 2,500 BC, about the same time that the builders of Stonehenge switched from using timber to using stone.
Project leader Professor Vince Gaffney of the University of Birmingham said, “When you see that as an archaeologist, you just look at it and think, ‘that’s a henge monument’ – it’s a timber equivalent to Stonehenge. The monument is one of the most studied monuments on Earth but this demonstrates that there is still much more to be found. The presumption was this was just an empty field – now you’ve got a major ceremonial monument looking at Stonehenge”.
The BBC has an interview with Prof. Gaffney and a computer reconstruction of the monument here. His team’s discovery comes just weeks after the start of excavations at Marden Henge, a stone circle ten times bigger than Stonehenge. It’s shaping up to be a good summer for archaeologists!
Image courtesy user Nachosan via Gadling’s flickr pool.