One of the mysteries of the landscape near Stonehenge was just solved ― and a whole new one has opened up.
Scientists said the deep shafts discovered nearby over the years aren’t sinkholes or other natural features, as once was theorized. Instead, they’re part of a Neolithic complex built some 4,500 years ago to surround the nearby Durrington Walls henge. Together, these 15-foot shafts form a circle 1.2 miles in diameter, less than 2 miles from Stonehenge itself, according to a study in the journal Internet Archaeology:
Although researchers have found 20 shafts, they believe there may have been more than 30. They made the discovery using data from the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project, a geophysical and remote sensing survey that led to the creation of a highly detailed “total digital models of the Stonehenge landscape.”
It’s also part of a widening range of monuments around Stonehenge, including the “super-henge” buried under the Durrington Walls and Woodhenge.
“It is remarkable that the application of new technology can still lead to the discovery of such a massive prehistoric structure which, currently, is significantly larger than any comparative prehistoric monument that we know of in Britain, at least,” lead researcher Professor Vince Gaffney of the University of Bradford said in a news release.
Now comes the new mystery: Uncovering the reason for this newly discovered complex.
Gaffney and his team believe that the complex may have served as a boundary ― guiding believers toward a site of religious importance and warning others away, the University of Bradford said in a news release.
“Stonehenge was for the dead, Durrington was for the living,” Gaffney told The New York Times. “But now, what we are probably looking at was this great big boundary around them probably warning people of what they are approaching.”
“As the place where the builders of Stonehenge lived and feasted, Durrington Walls is key to unlocking the story of the wider Stonehenge landscape,” archaeologist Nick Snashall of the National Trust said in a news release. “And this astonishing discovery offers us new insights into the lives and beliefs of our Neolithic ancestors.”