The shafts surround the known location of Durrington Walls. Photo copyright: UNIVERSITY OF ST ANDREWS/PA WIRE

Archaeologists believe that a ring of large shafts or pits discovered near Stonehenge were dug by Neolithic people more than 4,500 years ago. Experts believe the 20 or more shafts may have served as a boundary to a sacred area connected to the henge.

The large shafts measure more than 10m (30ft) in diameter and 5m (15ft) in depth and lie in a circle 1.2 mile (2km) wide. The size of this area is significantly larger than any other prehistoric monument in Britain. The pits surround the ancient settlement of Durrington Walls, two miles (3km) from Stonehenge, where it is believed the builders of Stonehenge lived and feasted.

Yellow dots mark the location of the finds, with Durrington Walls marked as the large brown circle and Stonehenge top left. Photo copyright UNIVERSITY OF ST ANDREWS/PA WIRE

A team of academics from the universities of St Andrews, Birmingham, Warwick, Bradford, Glasgow and the University of Wales Trinity Saint David has been working on the project for some time. The shafts were discovered using remote sensing technology and sampling. Prof Gaffney of the University of Bradford said “The area around Stonehenge is amongst the most studied archaeological landscapes on earth, and it is remarkable that the application of new technology can still lead to the discovery of such a massive prehistoric structure”. He added “When these pits were first noted, it was thought they might be natural features. Only through geophysical surveys could we join the dots and see that there was a pattern on a massive scale.”

Further excavations will be necessary but it appears that the sides of the shafts are nearly vertical. It is believed that they were dug to act as a boundary, perhaps marking out Durrington Walls as a special place or emphasising the difference between the Durrington and Stonehenge areas.

Dr Richard Bates, from St Andrews’ School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said it had given an insight to “an even more complex society than we could ever imagine”.

The discovery writes a whole new chapter in the story of the Stonehenge landscape and will undoubtedly not be the last.

Source             BBC News website (22 June 2020)

Text                 Alun Harvey

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