'Astonishing' circle of pits found near Stonehenge

Elias Hubbard
June 25, 2020

Exactly what their goal was remains unclear, but the team suspects they served a religious objective, for example acting as a boundary around a circular monument known as the Durrington Walls henge.

Tests suggest that the shafts were excavated around 4,500 years ago and scientists believe they have operated as a kind of boundary around the area.

The Durrington Shafts discovery, announced on Monday, is all the more extraordinary because it offers the first evidence that the early inhabitants of Britain, mainly farming communities, had developed a way to count.

University of Bradford archaeologist Vince Gaffney said, "it was "remarkable" that Stonehenge, one of the most studied archaeological landscapes in the world, could yield such a significant discovery".

"The size of the shafts and circuit surrounding Durrington Walls is without precedent within the United Kingdom", said Professor Vince Gaffney, a researcher in the School of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences at the University of Bradford. In the program "The Secret Skeletons Beneath Stonehenge" in the Discovery Channel in 2018, osteoarchaeologist Jackie McKinley theorized that there was another objective for people at the time to come to Stonehenge thousands of years ago.

Gaffney said: "We are starting to see things we could never see through standard archaeology, things we could not imagine".

However, the archaeologist said that around 20 shafts had been found but that there may have been more than 30. It wasn't until archaeologists "zoomed out" on the landscape using geophysical surveys that they noticed the distinct circular pattern and realized they must be human-made.

Previously, more discoveries were made on the historic site.

The mysterious Stonehenge - whose goal still remains unknown today despite decades of research - is one the UK's most famous landmarks, attracting both tourists and those in search of spiritual connections with nature.

In total, the archaeologists discovered 20 Neolithic shafts. Parker adds that while a number of ancient civilizations had counting systems, the evidence lies primarily in texts in various forms that they left behind. Its sheer size suggests that the people who constructed the structure around 2,500 BCE had some grasp of numeracy, which they most likely expressed using a tally system, and perhaps used it for some cosmological function. Positioning each shaft would have involved pacing more than 800 metres from the henge outwards. Partners included the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology in cooperation with the Universities of Birmingham, St Andrews, Warwick, the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, and the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (University of Glasgow).

Full publication of research at Durrington has been published as an open access article by Internet Archaeology. This find follows the recent Summer Solstice online event as the in-person gathering was canceled because of the coronavirus.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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