This isn’t the sort of thing we usually cover but I thought this was pretty interesting so I’m taking a break from politics and protests. Researchers in England have discovered a massive new element to an existing Neolithic site near Stonehenge. The find is a series of large pits arranged in a circle around an ancient town called Durrington Walls which existed at the time Stonehenge was under construction about 4,500 years ago.
The study, published online on Sunday, outlines the discovery of a large circle of shafts surrounding the ancient village — known as the Durrington Walls henge monument — about two miles from Stonehenge. The trenches, each of which is around 30 feet wide and 15 feet deep, are thought to have been part of a ritual boundary area between the two sites…
“As the place where the builders of Stonehenge lived and feasted, Durrington Walls is key to unlocking the story of the wider Stonehenge landscape,” Nick Snashall, the National Trust archaeologist for the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site, said in a statement.
Calling the finding an “astonishing discovery,” she said it would “write a whole new chapter in the story of the Stonehenge landscape.”
Dr. Vincent Gaffney said the location of the pits, which seem to be arranged equidistant from Durrington Walls is the earliest evidence that ancient people living in the area had some basic math skills.
“Stonehenge was for the dead, Durrington was for the living,” Dr. Gaffney said. “But now, what we are probably looking at was this great big boundary around them probably warning people of what they are approaching.”
He said that the pits had been set at a deliberate distance and that their locations would have had to be paced out from a central point. That is a significant clue about people living in the area at the time, he said, because it “means they could count” — making it among the earliest evidence for counting in what is now Britain.
The pits were discovered by researchers who drove around the area on ATVs pulling battery powered magnetometers. So no excavation of the pits has been done at this point and there is apparently no plan to do so anytime soon. What everyone seems to be impressed by here is really the scale of this. The diameter of the circle created by the pits was approximately two miles, making this the largest Neolithic site in England and possibly in all of Europe.
If you’re interested in more about Stonehenge, here’s a NY Times piece from 2015 about discoveries at the site. Finally, here’s a BBC report on the current discovery.