Tailored Tours

The Largest Prehistoric Monument in Britain Discovered At Stonehenge

It’s incredible to think that a monument almost five thousand years old is still making headlines, but once again Stonehenge has dropped yet another clue in our endless search to discover who really built this magnificent temple?

Archaeologists have recently discovered a circle of up to 20 deep shafts in the ground that span 1.2 miles in diameter, making it by far the largest monument in Ancient Britain. The  shafts circle an enclosure which was already the largest henge in Britain, known as Durrington Walls. This is where we believe the people who built Stonehenge lived in 2500BC when the huge Sarsen Stones were being added to the monument.

Professor Mike Parker Pearson believes that Durrington and nearby Woodhenge were places where people celebrated life and the living, as opposed to Stonehenge which was a place more commonly associated with the dead. Until now, we never quite knew the sheer scale of this ceremony between life and death until the discovery of this giant ring of pits. Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust archaeologist for the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, described the discovery as “astonishing”.

“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.”

Neolithic Shafts Discovered in July 2020
Neolithic Shafts Discovered in July 2020 Source: Stonehenge Hidden Landscape Project. Image: Google Earth

What Does This Teach Us About Our Anscestors?

The Greater Landscape of Durrington Walls and its Surrounding Shafts

Despite it being very early days with the discovery, there are already some fascinating ideas that we can attach to our ancestors knowledge of the seasons, mathematics and time.

Between 2004 and 2007, the remains of a village were discovered beneath the banks of Durrington Walls, with a total of 9 houses being discovered within the vicinity. The density of these Neolithic houses are unparalleled anywhere else in Britain except Orkney, so we know that this place was vitally important.

 

 

Pigs Teeth Excavated at Durrington Walls Tells Us That They Were 9 Months Old At The Age Of Death, Suggesting Some Sort Of Winter Ceremony Took Place In December

However, we can’t tell you for certain if the houses were lived in all year round, as it may have been used primarily for the Winter Solstice. This idea that people travelled to stay at Durrington in the winter has been backed up by the fact that many pig’s teeth have been discovered, suggesting they may have been part of a huge winter feast. What is more, two timber circles were excavated within the henge, and the southern circle entrance points towards the Winter Solstice Sunrise. Therefore, we could perhaps attribute our new discovery to the idea that these large shafts may have been some sort of marker for the travelling ancestors in the winter to show they were on the right path.

In contrast, the shafts cover such a large area that they could have also been a warning sign to those unfamiliar that they were entering sacred ground. We mustn’t forget, Stonehenge is synonymous with the innovation of early farming communities and claiming land for settlement would have been an entirely new concept to these Early Bronze Age people. Aside from the enormous henges and stones that we see on the Salisbury plain, this landscape is full of ancient burial mounds and causewayed enclosures which suggests it was a place of gathering as well as ceremony.

On a more sophisticated scale, the shafts tell us that our ancestors were capable of much larger accurate measurements than previously thought. Professor Vincent Gaffney, a leading archaeologist on the project, said:

“The size of the shafts and circuit surrounding Durrington Walls is currently unique. It demonstrates the significance of Durrington Walls Henge, the complexity of the monumental structures within the Stonehenge landscape, and the capacity and desire of Neolithic communities to record their cosmological belief systems in ways, and at a scale, that we had never previously anticipated.”

Indeed, the sheer scale of these new shafts tell us that our ancestors must have had some sort of counting system to measure a circle around Durrington 2 kilometres in diameter! Positioning each shaft would have involved pacing more than 800 metres from the henge outwards. Not to mention, these pits have been estimated at 5 metres in depth, with no greater tools used than digging large shafts with tools of stone, wood and bone.  With this recent discovery, we can be sure that our ancestors were indeed masters in their own right of accurately measuring over a mile in distance thousands of years before The Romans!

 

We may not have had the pleasure of watching the sunrise at Stonehenge this week, but the discovery of these shafts have once again blown our minds over how amazing The Neolithic People really were.

 

We hope you enjoyed reading this article, if you’d like to know more about Durrington, Stonehenge or Woodhenge, be sure to visit our page here on Ancient Monuments Of Wessex.

 

Thanks for Reading!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *