Stonehenge, which dominates the British countryside, is imposing but represents only a fraction of the structures that once existed in the region. Today, archaeologists have discovered at Durrington Walls a huge circle of hitherto unknown structures.
What’s new in Stonehenge?
Stonehenge is perhaps the most impressive structure still standing, but at its peak in the Neolithic, the honor would have gone to the henge of Durrington Walls. Located about 3.2 km away, it had a diameter of 500 m, much larger than the most famous monument. It is believed to have been the site of a village.
And now the archaeologists have discovered that the site is larger than we thought. As part of the « Stonehenge Hidden Landscape » project, a team found a series of shafts measuring up to 10 m wide and 5 m deep. These form a circle 2 km wide that encompasses Durrington Walls, the nearby Woodhenge site, and an even older structure called Larkhill Causewayed Enclosure.
An older structure than Stonehenge.
The team has dated the carbon structures to around 2500 BC. This corresponds to a time when Durrington Walls was occupied, and Stonehenge was under construction. Although as many as 20 wells were found, the team estimates that there may have been as many as 30.
The area around Stonehenge is one of the most extensively studied archaeological sites on Earth and it is remarkable that the application of new technologies can still lead to the discovery of such a massive prehistoric structure, which is now much larger than any comparative prehistoric monument we know of in Britain, at least, » says Professor Vince Gaffney, the study’s corresponding author.
A structure unique in its size.
Judging by the location of the well ring, archaeologists suggest that the structure was there to mark the boundary of Durrington’s henge and guide visitors to the religious sites within it. It could also have served as a warning to less friendly visitors.
The size of the wells and the circle surrounding the Durrington Walls is unprecedented in the United Kingdom, » says Gaffney. « It demonstrates the importance of Durrington Walls Henge, the complexity of the monumental structures in the Stonehenge landscape, and the ability and desire of Neolithic communities to record their cosmological belief systems in a way and on a scale we never anticipated before ».