“We’re looking at one of the largest stone monuments in Europe and it has been under our noses for something like 4,000 years… It’s truly remarkable.” said Professor Vince Gaffney, from the University of Bradford and co-director of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project, which made the discovery. “We don’t think there’s anything quite like this anywhere else in the world. This is completely new and the scale is extraordinary,” he added.
The discovery was announced at the opening of the British Science Festival in Bradford, and has been described as the most exciting finding of Neolithic Britain for many years.
The Irish Times, which has been reporting live from the Science Festival, reports that the giant monoliths are up to 15 feet (4.5 meters) tall, and are believed to be sarsen stones – sandstone blocks which were also used for the heelstone and circle uprights at Stonehenge. The stones are lying horizontally and archaeologists believe they were deliberately pushed over and covered with earth.
“Not only does the new evidence demonstrate a completely unexpected phase of monumental architecture at one of the greatest ceremonial sites in prehistoric Europe, the new stone row could well be contemporary with the famous Stonehenge sarsen circle or even earlier,” said Professor Gaffney.
A reconstruction depicting how the row of megalithic stones would have looked. Credit: Ludwig Boltzmann Institute.The row of megalithic stones formed the southern arm of a c-shaped ritual enclosure, which faced directly towards the River Avon, the rest of which was made up of an artificially scarped natural elevation in the ground. The monument was later converted from a c-shaped to a roughly circular enclosure, now known as Durrington Walls – Britain’s largest pre-historic henge, roughly 12 times the size of Stonehenge itself.
Durrington Walls measures around 1,640 feet (500 meters) in diameter and is surrounded by a ditch of up to 54ft (16 meters) wide and a bank of more than three foot (1 meter) high. It is built on the same summer solstice alignment as Stonehenge. The enormous structure is believed to have formed a gigantic ceremonial complex in the Stonehenge landscape.
“It was probably for a ritual of some sort or it could have marked out an arena,” said Professor Gaffney. “These monuments were very theatrical. This a design to impress and empower.”
One theory is that the row of megaliths marked a ritual procession route.
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The c-shaped structure of Durrington Walls with the line of newly-discovered megaliths along the southern arm. Credit: Ludwig Boltzmann Institute.
The completed super-henge after the stones were toppled over and buried. Credit: Ludwig Boltzmann Institute.“These latest results have produced tantalising evidence of what lies beneath the ancient earthworks at Durrington Walls,” Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust Archaeologist for the Avebury and Stonehenge World Heritage Site, told The Telegraph. “The presence of what appear to be stones, surrounding the site of one of the largest Neolithic settlements in Europe adds a whole new chapter to the Stonehenge story.”
Featured image: The earliest phase of Durrington Walls with its line of megaliths. Credit: Ludwig Boltzmann Institute.
By April Holloway