Tuesday, November 20, 2007


As the co-author of Stonehenge with Caroline Malone (2002), I'm excited to report what we did not know when we wrote the book only five years ago. This information casts a whole new look on Stonehenge and how it was built. I've been to Durrington Walls as well but one would never know there were surprises beneath the surface. So read on...

Archaeologists working near Stonehenge have uncovered what they believe is the largest Neolithic settlement ever discovered in Northern Europe. Remains of an estimated 300 houses are thought to survive under earthworks 3km (2 miles) from the famous stone rings,
and 10 have been excavated so far. But there could have been double that total according to the archaeologist leading the work. "What is really exciting is realizing just how big the village for the Stonehenge builders was," says Professor Mike Parker Pearson of Sheffield University. Allowing four per house, he estimates there could have been room for more than 2,000 people.

Analysis of the houses has also showed that some were higher status than others. This is the first evidence for social difference and hierarchy at the time of Stonehenge, indicating that the
organization of labor for moving and raising the stones was not egalitarian.

The settlement is buried beneath the bank of Durrington Walls, a great circular ditched enclosure. Geophysical survey and excavation work have revealed that the ditch and bank had been constructed in large sections, probably by separate work gangs. A find of dozens of
antler picks in one section of ditch gives some idea of the size of these work parties.

"From the number of antler picks left in the bottom of one section - 57 - if you allow two people with one pick plus a team of basketeers carrying the rubble away and you've got to have the sandwich makers as well. "This suggests a minimum team size of 200. If the 22 sections of Durrington's ditch were all dug at the same time, that's a work force of thousands."

The team has also found a tantalizing artifact: a piece of chalk with cut marks that Parker Pearson believes was made by a copper axe. He is not surprised at the evidence - as copper working in neighboring parts of mainland Europe dates back to 3000 BCE - but it would be the first evidence from Britain before 2400 BCE. The theory is also supported by the almost total absence of evidence of stone or flint axes in the village. The current excavations at Stonehenge
began four years ago and are part of a 10-year project.

Source: BBC News (5 November 2007)


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