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Britain's largest prehistoric structure discovered near Stonehenge

Part of Durrington Walls (the earth mound)Part of Durrington Walls (the earth mound)A team of researchers from the universities of St Andrews, Birmingham, Warwick, Bradford, Glasgow and the University of Wales Trinity Saint David have announced the discovery of the largest prehistoric structure ever found in Britain. It is a giant ring of large shafts, each 5 metres (16 feet) deep and measuring more than 10 metres (33 feet). The shafts form a 2-kilometre (1.2-mile) circle surrounding Durrington Walls, a large henge (an earthwork consisting of a ring-shaped bank and ditch) lying 3 kilometres (1.9 miles) northeast of Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire. The structure was discovered using the latest remote sensing technology. The slow accumulation of silts in the shafts over the centuries shows that they were dug and then left open.

Neolithic people digging with stone axes and antlersNeolithic people digging with stone axes and antlersThe pits are estimated to be 4500 years old, dating from around the beginning of the Neolithic period in Britain when people began to farm the land. This is about the same time as the construction of both Stonehenge and the Durrington Walls. Approximately 20 shafts have been found, but there may have been more than 30 in all (about 40% of the circle cannot be studied because of modern development). 


StonehengeStonehengeDigging such large holes in the ground using tools of stone, wood and bone would have demanded a huge effort, as well as careful planning and organization of teams of workers. The builders must have developed a counting system: positioning each shaft would have involved people pacing more than 800 metres (2600 feet) from the central henge outwards. These were the same people who also built Stonehenge, a complex building project involving the transport of massive bluestones to the site from southwest Wales, about 240 kilometres (150 miles) away, so we know they were well capable of such a project. 

We do not know what the purpose of the ring of shafts was. Perhaps they formed a boundary that guided people towards the sacred site, the Durrington Walls henge, that lay at its precise centre. Alternatively, they may have warned people against entering it.

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