Archive for September 7th, 2015

Vast stone monument found under “super-henge”

Monday, September 7th, 2015

In the Salisbury Plain three kilometers (1.8 miles) from Stonehenge lie the banks of a “super-henge” known as Durrington Walls. It’s super because of its sheer size: 500 meters (1640 feet) in diameter, 1.5 kilometers (one mile) in circumference with a surrounding ditch 18 meters (59 feet) wide with an outer bank 40 meters (131 feet) wide. Heavily eroded, the outer slope of the ditch and inner slope of the bank form a ridge that is one meter (three feet) high at its highest points; the ridge is the “walls” of Durrington Walls. It was built around 2,600 B.C. in the late Neolithic/early Bronze Age.

Using the latest and greatest ground penetrating radar technology, the Stonehenge Hidden Landscape project has found that underneath the bank is a row of up to 90 standing stones, 30 of which appear to be intact and are as much as 4.5 meters (15 feet) high. Others are broken or missing, the latter identified by huge foundation pits. Even incomplete and unexcavated, this is the largest stone monument ever found in Britain.

At Durrington, more than 4.5 thousand years ago, a natural depression near the river Avon appears to have been accentuated by a chalk cut scarp and then delineated on the southern side by the row of massive stones. Essentially forming a C-shaped ‘arena’, the monument may have surrounded traces of springs and a dry valley leading from there into the Avon. Although none of the stones have yet been excavated a unique sarsen standing stone, “The Cuckoo Stone”, remains in the adjacent field and this suggests that other stones may have come from local sources.

Previous, intensive study of the area around Stonehenge had led archaeologists to believe that only Stonehenge and a smaller henge at the end of the Stonehenge Avenue possessed significant stone structures. The latest surveys now provide evidence that Stonehenge’s largest neighbour, Durrington Walls, had an earlier phase which included a large row of standing stones probably of local origin and that the context of the preservation of these stones is exceptional and the configuration unique to British archaeology.

This new discovery has significant implications for our understanding of Stonehenge and its landscape setting. The earthwork enclosure at Durrington Walls was built about a century after the Stonehenge sarsen circle (in the 27th century BC), but the new stone row could well be contemporary with or earlier than this. Not only does this new evidence demonstrate an early phase of monumental architecture at one of the greatest ceremonial sites in prehistoric Europe, it also raises significant questions about the landscape the builders of Stonehenge inhabited and how they changed this with new monument-building during the 3rd millennium BC.

Archaeologists believe the stones were toppled and the later henge whose earthwork remains are visible above ground built on top of them. The former standing stones became the awkwardly flat southern perimeter of the Durrington Walls henge. Here’s a digital model of the standing stones as they would have looked when they still stood that fades into the later bank.

[youtube=https://youtu.be/zIfOGFA4OTE&w=430]

That C-shape is familiar. Remember the stone circle found on Dartmoor that was the southernmost point of a crescent formed by other stone circles? The Dartmoor stones fell around 4,000 years ago, so the circles and the henge could well have been contemporaries.

Lastly, here is an extremely adorable picture of one of the magnetometer surveys in the area.

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