Stonehenge Was Hiding Another Mystery That Archaeologists Just Uncovered

A recent archaeological find has revealed several mysterious human-made pits near Stonehenge.
Stonehenge

Stonehenge has been studied intensively for centuries. It was one of the world’s most mysterious archaeological sites and seemed to contain many secrets. When a series of deep pits dug into the ground were discovered near the world heritage site last year, archaeologists excitedly described it as the most prominent prehistoric structure ever found in Britain. However, some colleagues dismissed the pits as mere natural features. 

Contrary to theories posed by some scientists, Guardian reported that the pits aren’t natural.

Given their uniform size (30 feet across and 16 feet deep), they appear to have served some purpose at the very least. Archaeologists are continually discovering new things about this prehistoric monument.

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What was discovered?

A secret network of large pits surrounding Stonehenge was discovered during an archaeological ‘biopsy’ of its surrounding landscape. The archaeologists established that those gaping pits that aligned to form a circle extending 1.2 miles (2km) in diameter were definitely human-made, dug into the sacred landscape almost 4,500 years ago. The study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, is the first extensive electromagnetic induction survey in the region.

918px Aphrodisias res
Electrical Resistance Survey of Aphrodisias by Tapatio

It has aided archaeologists in discovering hundreds of large pits, each measuring over 2.4 meters (7.8 feet) in diameter. Thousands of years ago, some of these pits were almost certainly created by human hands.

The study

Prehistoric pit deposits are ubiquitous archaeological structures in the UK and northwest Europe. However, they are often only a meter (3,3 ft) broad and deep. Oval pits larger than 2.4 meters (7.9 ft) in diameter are uncommon, but they appear to be particularly abundant near Stonehenge and the adjoining Durrington Walls Henge. The site is about 1.9 miles northeast of Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain and is close to Amesbury in Wiltshire. Each pit is approximately 5 meters (16.4 ft) deep and 10 meters (32.8 ft) wide. Science supports the notion that the neolithic people who built Stonehenge also dug this monument.

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Geophysical sensors and direct archaeological examination discovered 415 huge pits across a 2.5 km2 (0.96 sq. mi.) region during a recent assessment of Stonehenge. Six of the nine pits discovered by the researchers were long-ago human-made, two were natural occurrences, and one was a recent agricultural deposit. The sheer number of these buildings indicates a type of prehistoric activity hitherto unknown at Stonehenge or in northwest Europe.

“What we perceive isn’t a snapshot of a specific moment in time. The seven-thousand-year interval between the oldest and most recent prehistoric pits we’ve uncovered indicates that the traces we see in our data transcend millennia,” says historian Paul Garwood from the University of Birmingham. “The archaeology we found is the consequence of the complicated and ever-changing occupation of the environment, from early Holocene hunter-gatherers to later Bronze Age occupiers of farms and field systems,” he further explains.

Research results

Prof Vincent Gaffney, an archaeologist from Bradford University who led the team that discovered the site, claimed that the research had proven that the pits were certainly a massive neolithic structure. “Some of the Stonehenge and finding debate looked insane,” he remarked. 

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Gaffney’s team also uncovered something new during their study in 2020. He and his colleagues found a mile-wide ring beneath the earth surrounding Stonehenge and the pits. They hypothesized that the ring was part of an informal engineering system using technologies that could track where the ground had been disturbed over generations. The builders could count their paces and ascertain the consistent shape of the trenches using this geological ring.

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Post-discovery 

Shortly after the discovery was announced in June 2020, one skeptic archaeologist described the pits as “blobs on the earth” and argued that tying them to Stonehenge was “totally hypothetical.” Another claimed that archaeologists who had looked at some of these pits before had concluded that they were natural hollows. “They could be trusted to detect a natural feature when they see one.” Gaffney was shocked by the arguments. He recalled one archaeologist saying that his team should have had at least a geologist on hand to identify natural characteristics.

Despite that part of the circle has perished, Gaffney noted that recent research included scientific investigation of nine of the pits due to modern development. Gaffney told Guardian that almost half of the pits have been surveyed, and they are all the same, which effectively demonstrates the size of the structure.” He said, “We haven’t found any evidence that the pits evolved from natural phenomena. Hence, it’s the largest prehistoric structure found in Britain.”

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What are the pits used for?

The essence of these large pits remains an open question, but the structure seemed to be a border guiding people to a sacred area since Durrington Walls, one of Britain’s largest henge monuments, is located at its center.

The earlier unknown subterranean ring is about 20 times bigger than Stonehenge. It adds to the proof that the early Britain inhabitants, primarily farming societies, evolved a method of counting and tracking paces to measure out the pits. It delivers new insights into the complexity of the landscape’s massive structures. A common hypothesis is that Stonehenge was thought to have cosmological importance for the people who erected it, though it’s unclear if the pits played a role.

Other ancient pits

Other prehistoric pits, found near the car park of the former old Stonehenge visitor center, date to roughly 8000 BCE and are linked with props for hunting aurochs, totem poles, and lunar observation. The round pits range from the Early Mesolithic to the Middle Bronze Age, circa 1300 BCE, and they are mainly concentrated on higher ground to the east and west of Stonehenge.

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Stonehenge dates back only about 5,000 years

“By combining revolutionary geophysical survey methodologies with coring and targeted excavation, the study team discovered some of the earliest indications of human activity ever discovered in the Stonehenge area,” explains archaeologist Nick Snashall – NIck works with the Stonehenge & Avebury World Heritage Site.

“The finding in northwest Europe of the largest known Early Mesolithic pit reveals that this was a special spot for hunter-gatherer societies thousands of years before the first stones were built.”

Complete chert pick or adze of Late Mesolithic or Early Neolithic date
Complete chert pick or adze of Late Mesolithic or Early Neolithic date. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Sensor technology

Experts in remote sensing technology have now explored ancient features in the landscape that traditional archaeology could never detect. They can look below the earth and pinpoint where the ground has been disturbed, even after thousands of years.

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The capacity of the technology to scan terrain and discover prospective archaeological sites gives archaeologists a new perspective on prehistoric environments. Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) is a method that may determine when sediment was last exposed to daylight.

Dr. Tim Kinnaird of the University of St Andrews’ school of earth and environmental sciences conducted the tests, which “confirmed beyond question that the pits date to roughly 2400 BCE.”

He talked about the “interesting” findings, such as the extraordinary consistency throughout the cores, identifying unique and multiple fills, and the notion that the pits were infilled simultaneously. Tim added that the in-depth laboratory analysis revealed that “these pits were not natural features.”

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He went on to say that the pits have all been found to be extremely similar, which is amazing. “These would be of various sizes if they were natural structures like sinkholes.