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Archaeologists have discovered the oldest prehistoric building ever found in the Stonehenge landscape – but fear a new road tunnel could severely damage the site.
Dating from around 6,300 years ago – at least 1,300 years before Stonehenge – it was built immediately adjacent to a sacred Stone Age spring.
Academics have dubbed it an “eco” house because the base of a fallen tree was used as one of the walls.
The building is important as it appears to have been constructed by indigenous Mesolithic hunter-gatherers at the time when the very first semi-agricultural European-originating Neolithic settlers were arriving in the area.
The tools found in the building are Mesolithic (ie, pre-Neolithic) – but the period they date from is the dawn of the early Neolithic. Archaeological discoveries are revealing that, within just a few generations, the population at the site had adopted Neolithic tool-making traditions – or alternatively had been physically displaced by Neolithic settlers.
The potentially semi-permanent nature of the newly discovered house is suggested by the deep post-holes used to construct it and by a large cobbled area (covering at least 90 square metres – and including a pathway), immediately adjacent to it.
The cobbled path led down to a spring which Mesolithic people used as a place for making ritual offerings.
So far, archaeologists at the site, just over a mile east of Stonehenge, have found tens of thousands of objects placed by these Stone Age people in the spring – including more than 20,000 flint tools, a large sandstone animal skin smoother, a slate arrow head from Cornwall or Wales, pieces of burnt flint and more than 2,400 animal bones .
Archaeologists are now worried that the Government’s plan to improve the Stonehenge landscape by putting the A303 in a cutting and tunnel, will change the local water level and thus destroy or severely damage the spring and any important and potentially unique water-logged archaeological remains.
“I am very concerned that any reduction in the groundwater level at the spring site and elsewhere in the Avon valley might potentially be a threat to archaeologically important waterlogged organic artefacts and ancient environmental evidence,” said University of Buckingham archaeologist David Jacques, directing the excavation.
The newly discovered Stone Age dwelling is believed to have measured around five by three metres and included a sunken area measuring five square metres where animal skins were scraped and cleaned and clothes were made.
The residents also developed an innovative way of keeping warm in winter. They used hot stones, pre-heated in a hearth, as a form of central heating.
In a joint statement, Historic England, English Heritage and the National Trust said: “Our understanding of the site will no doubt be enhanced by the work recently undertaken by the University of Buckingham and we are confident that its importance will be taken into consideration as the various options for the Government’s road scheme are developed. We look forward to hearing more about this important Mesolithic site and seeing the full academic results when available.”
The super-henge of Durrington Walls has been hiding a secret for thousands of years. A huge row of megalithic stones buried beneath.
A huge ritual monument which dates from the time of Stonehenge has been discovered hidden under the bank of a nearby stone-age enclosure.
Durrington Walls, a roundish ‘super-henge’ has long puzzled archaeologists because one side is straight while the rest of the structure is curved.
As early as 1810, historian Richard Colt Hoare suggested that its shape had been left ‘much mutilated’ by centuries of agriculture.
But now ground penetrating radar has found that the straight edge is actually aligned over a row of 90 massive standing stones which once stood 15ft high, and formed a c-shaped arena which has not been seen for thousands of years.
The stone line, which curves into a c-shape towards one end, is likely to have marked a ritual procession route, and is thought to date from the same time as the sarsen circle at Stonehenge.
Archaeologists believe the stones were pushed over and a bank built on top, but they are still trying to work out exactly why they were built. Nothing exists like it in the world.
“It’s utterly remarkable,” said Professor Vince Gaffney, of the University of Bradford. “It’s just enormous. It is definitely one of the largest stone monuments in Europe and is completely unique. We’ve never seen anything like this in the world.
“We can’t tell what the stones are made of, but they are the same height as the sarsens in the Stonehenge circle, so they may be the same kind.
“It was probably for a ritual of some sort, or it could have marked out an arena. These monuments were very theatrical. This a design to impress and empower.
“Not only does the new evidence demonstrate a completely unexpected phase of monumental architecture at one of the greatest ceremonial sites in prehistoric Europe, the new stone row could well be contemporary with the famous Stonehenge sarsen circle or even earlier.”
Durrington Walls, which sits in a depression not far from the River Avon, near Amesbury, Wiltshire, is one of the largest known henge monuments, measuring around 1,640 feet in diameter and built around 4,500 years ago in the Neolithic, or new stone age.
It is surrounded by a ditch of up to 54ft wide and a bank of more than three foot high and is built on the same summer solstice alignment as Stonehenge. Some archaeoolgists have suggested that the builders of Stonehenge lived at Durrington. A nearby wooden structure, called Wood Henge was thought to represent the land of the living while Stonehenge represented the realm of the dead.
But the discovery of the stones suggests that Durrington Walls had a far earlier and less domestic history than has previously been supposed.
The Bradford archaeologists have been working alongside an international team of experts as part of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes project which has been mapping the entire area around with the latest technology.
“Everything previously written about the Stonehenge landscape and the ancient monuments within it will need to be re-written,” said Paul Garwood, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Birmingham and principle prehistorian on the project.
Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust Archaeologist for the Avebury and Stonehenge World Heritage Site, said the new results were providing ‘unexpected twists in the age old tale.’
“These latest results have produced tantalising evidence of what lies beneath the ancient earthworks at Durrington Walls. The presence of what appear to be stones, surrounding the site of one of the largest Neolithic settlements in Europe adds a whole new chapter to the Stonehenge story.”
The research will be presented at the British Science Festival in Bradford this week.
Story By: Sarah Knapton, Science Editor – The Telegraph
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Researchers have uncovered in west Wales, another major source of one of the bluestone types found at Stonehenge.
Experts have argued that the large sarsen stones at Stonehenge are local to the Salisbury Plain area. However, the origin of the smaller bluestones has been the topic of research for many years, although there has been little refinement of the research conducted by geologist Herbert Henry Thomas in 1923 about their original sources.
The new paper by Dr Richard Bevins (Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales), Dr Rob Ixer (Institute of Archaeology, UCL) and Professor Nick Pearce (Aberystwyth University), will soon be published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
Carn Meini bluestone. Image: Ceridwen (Wikimedia, used under a CC BY-SA 3.0)
Spotted dolerite location
In 2011, Bevins and Ixer confirmed for the first time the exact location of some of the bluestones known as rhyolites (a type of silica-rich igneous rock). Their research identified the source of the stone to the prominent outcrop of Craig Rhos y Felin near Crymych, Pembrokeshire. Now – along with Pearce – they are confident of the location of another major type of bluestone – the spotted dolerite (a type of relatively silica-poor igneous rock containing distinctive alteration spots).
H.H. Thomas from the Geological Survey published a paper in The Antiquaries Journal in which he claimed to have sourced the spotted dolerite component of the Bluestones to hilltop rock outcrops, exposed in the high Preseli, to the west of Crymych in west Wales. Specifically, he thought that the tors on Carn Meini and Cerrig Marchogion were the likely source outcrops. He went on to speculate about how humans had transported the stones to the Salisbury Plain, favouring transport across land rather than a combined land and sea journey. As a result of Thomas’s views recent archaeological excavations have concentrated on finding Stonehenge-related quarries at Carn Meini.
The current findings conclude that the majority of the spotted dolerites analysed actually come from Carn Goedog which is about 1.5km away from Thomas’s originally proposed site of Carn Meini. Image: National Museum Cardiff
Using geochemical techniques, Bevins, Ixer and Pearce have compared samples of rock and debris from Stonehenge with Thomas’s findings and also geochemical data published in the early 1990’s by Richard Thorpe and his team from the Open University. The current findings conclude that the majority of the spotted dolerites analysed actually come from Carn Goedog which is about 1.5km away from Thomas’s originally proposed site of Carn Meini.
Dr Richard Bevins (Amgueddfa Cymru) who has been studying the geology of Pembrokeshire for over 30 years said:
“When the first part of our research was announced in 2011, we communicated our commitment to continue to work in the area and we have added to that initial work with papers in 2012 and 2013. I am very pleased that we have continued to revisit the area and be able to further study the standing stones and debris from Stonehenge!
“The geology of Pembrokeshire is unique, which is why I have spent so much time in the area. The area has much to offer in helping us understand what happens when magma is erupted from underwater volcanoes, and how those igneous rocks are transformed by the effects of increased temperatures and pressures during later mountain building events. Equally interesting of course is the fact that these igneous rocks have been used in the construction of Stonehenge and only once we know their correct geographical origins can we fully interpret the archaeological significance.
“I hope that our recent scientific findings will influence the continually debated question of how the bluestones were transported to Salisbury Plain.”
Continue the research
Dr Rob Ixer who studied his first Stonehenge bluestone twenty-five years ago said:
“As this and earlier papers show, almost everything we believed ten years ago about the bluestones have been shown to be partially or completely incorrect. We are still in the stages of redress and shall continue to research the bluestones for answers. This paper is a very important component of this search and must re-direct us (and others) to relook at the standing stones, their debris and possible quarry sites so that we can correctly determine their origins.”
Source: National Museum Cardiff
Cite this article
National Museum Cardiff. Major source of Stonehenge spotted dolerites located. Past Horizons. November 20, 2013, from http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/11/2013/major-source-stonehenge-spotted-dolerites-located
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Archaeologists who have been undertaking excavation work in the surrounding area of Stonehenge have claimed to have solved the mystery as to why the large circle of standing stones was constructed in the position it is in. However, it seems rather premature to be popping open the champagne bottles just yet as the evidence is far from conclusive.
The team of scientists working in Amesbury, a short distance from where the landmarks sits on a hillside, believe the discovery of a ‘warm’ water spring provides all the answers they were looking for. It is claimed that Ice Age man was drawn to the nearby pools which never froze over and settled in the area to have access to the water.
The pools are fed by a spring which keeps the water at a constant 11 degrees, even in winter. Scientists visited the area in minus ten degree temperatures and found that the pools had not frozen over.
“The belief has always been that Stonehenge would not have been built here without there being something special about the area, said Andy Rhind-Tutt, chairman of the Amesbury Museum and Heritage Trust. “We believe the answer lies in the springs which feed the River Avon.”
The reason for Stonehenge’s location has remained one of the great unsolved mysteries of British prehistory, with no one theory accepted as correct. While the latest finding is interesting, it certainly appears too superficial to explain all the other evidence relating to Stonehenge’s location – were the warm springs a big enough motivation for Mesolithic settlers to drag megalithic blocks over 240 kilometres? Is the fact that it sits perfectly on a solstice axis now considered insignificant?
Hopefully scientists don’t believe this research is enough to close the file on the mysteries of Stonehenge.
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Archaeologists have uncovered a missing piece of the Stonehenge Avenue, the route leading to the prehistoric monument.
The 2.5km Avenue has long been considered the formal processional approach to the monument, and is aligned with the solstice axis of Stonehenge. But its connection with the monument had been severed by the A344.
Archeologists were unsure whether the remains of the severed section of the Avenue would be intact. But two ditches were found near the Heel Stone, about 24 metres from the entrance to the monument.
A section of the A344 running past Stonehenge was closed permanently in June. The road will be grassed over to improve the Stonehenge visitor experience.
Heather Sebire, properties curator and archaeologist at English Heritage, said: “The part of the Avenue that was cut through by the road has obviously been destroyed forever, but we were hopeful that archaeology below the road would survive.
“And here we have it – the missing piece in the jigsaw. It is very exciting to find a piece of physical evidence that officially makes the connection which we were hoping for.
“It was always agreed that once the road came up it would be excavated. We hoped the ditches would be there but there was a slight unknown element, so we were delighted to find they were there.
“We are fairly sure the Avenue outlines the walkway towards the stones.
“It was constructed in 2300 BC so is a later addition to the stone circle, but people would have processed along it to the monument. It leads directly into what we think is the entrance, and links the monument to the river Avon.
“It’s quite a dramatic finding.”
Once the A344 has been grassed over, it will be used as the visitor route into Stonehenge. Visitors will be able to walk along the Avenue, tracing the route along which people in prehistoric Britain most likely made their way to the monument.
Submitted by Emma McFarnon (HistoryExtra.com)
Full article: http://www.historyextra.com/news/%E2%80%98missing-piece%E2%80%99-stonehenge-avenue-uncovered
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