Archeological investigations have revealed a vast new prehistoric site near Stonehenge.
A series of what are being called shafts, all of roughly the same size, were discovered in an area that covers about a mile, close to the legendary stone monuments and other Neolithic-era sites near Wiltshire, England.
Experts estimate the shafts are about 4,500 years old. Twenty shafts were found, each about 20 yards across and 5 yards deep, according to CBS News.
Researchers discovered the shafts through imaging techniques involving technology and traditional excavation.
About 40 percent of the circle around Stonehenge that the shafts would compose has been developed, meaning any traces of the shafts would be obliterated.
Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project announces discovery of huge pit circle enclosing Durrington henge. #stonehenge @eh_stonehenge Open Access journal @IntarchEditor https://t.co/BQRVE6lUgD Click to watch animation. pic.twitter.com/d4VbztGNYd
— European Association of Archaeologists (@archaeologyEAA) June 22, 2020
Stonehenge: Neolithic monument found near sacred site https://t.co/uKTlQ2Neqh
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) June 22, 2020
The Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes team, a cooperative archaeological effort among British universities, said the pits envelop a smaller Neolithic site known as Durrington Walls.
“The size of the shafts and circuit surrounding Durrington Walls is without precedent within the UK,” said professor Vince Gaffney of the University of Bradford, according to a news release posted on the university’s website.
“It demonstrates the significance of Durrington Walls Henge, the complexity of the monumental structures within the Stonehenge landscape, and the capacity and desire of Neolithic communities to record their cosmological belief systems in ways, and at a scale, that we had never previously anticipated,” he said.
Gaffney said the amount of effort expended testifies to the importance of the site, according to The Guardian.
“I can’t emphasize enough the effort that would have gone in to digging such large shafts with tools of stone, wood and bone,” he said.
So what was its purpose?
Gaffney said the shafts reflect a “huge cosmological statement and the need to inscribe it into the earth itself.”
“Stonehenge has a clear link to the seasons and the passage of time, through the summer solstice. But with the Durrington Shafts, it’s not the passing of time, but the bounding by a circle of shafts which has cosmological significance,” he said.
Richard Bates, a professor at St. Andrews University, said the discovery offered “an insight to the past that shows an even more complex society than we could ever imagine.”
“Clearly sophisticated practices demonstrate that the people were so in tune with natural events to an extent that we can barely conceive in the modern world we live in today,” Bates said.
The shafts appear to be very precisely positioned, which Gaffney said would have required pacing about a half-mile from the henge that they surrounded.
Gaffney said the shafts had first been thought to be natural but that using geophysical prospection, ground-penetrating radar and magnetometry, a pattern emerged.
“We are starting to see things we could never see through standard archaeology, things we could not imagine,” he said.
“Seemingly isolated features have been shown to be linked and significant to the story of the emergence of the ritual landscape,” he said.
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