Archaeologists discovered something surprising about an ancient monument in southwest England.
The structure, located at Avebury in Wiltshire, is one of the largest prehistoric monuments in Europe. The visible section is a single central monument, surrounded by a circle of large stones. Until recently, archaeologists believed that the entire monument was a fairly simple stone circle similar to other Neolithic structures such as Stonehenge, located in the same county.
However, that’s not the full story. Recent research shows that the Avebury monument is surrounded by a strange square of stones—unique, given its location.
“We discovered something really weird,” said Dr. Mark Gillings, a reader in archaeology at the University of Leicester, to The Telegraph. “In a landscape of circles, we’ve suddenly got a square and lines. Slap bang in the middle of this monumental structure you’ve got a Neolithic house. It’s very strange and it shows that before we got the structure we see today there had been 1,000 years of jiggery-pokery.”
Describing the full monument as “unique,” archaeologists note that this could be evidence of a Neolithic house structure.
“It is quite exciting,” archaeologist Vicky Cummings, who didn’t work on the research, said in an interview with BuzzFeed News. “It’s a monument that is unique. You get types of monuments, and in the late Neolithic people built circular things—so the fact that there’s something square in the middle of the circle, essentially it’s a new thing. You have to get a grip on why people are doing something completely different. I don’t know of any parallels.”
Interested scientists have studied the Avebury site since the 1700s. In the early 20th century, archaeologist Alexander Keiller discovered a line of standing stones next to a fallen obelisk, which provided a clue, but
For the new study, researchers used modern radar equipment to survey the ground around the central obelisk. While they haven’t yet published a study about their findings, they made the unusual decision to post a detailed technical report, explaining that the findings were “too important to sit on.”
As for the rectangular structure, archaeologists can’t definitively determine the purpose for it.
“We don’t know what the structure was for,” said Mark Gillings, the lead researcher. “It could have been a dwelling, or it could have been something much more symbolic. Given that it could have been 700 years old when the stones went up, it could have been seen as the house of the ancestors, something that’s important to respect.”
If the team can find evidence of the structure’s purpose, the findings could affect the way scientists think about similar structures. In the meantime, the rectangular arrangement of the stones indicates that the monuments are much more complex than scientists had thought.
“This discovery has been almost 80 years in the making, but it’s been well worth waiting for,” said Dr. Nick Snashall, a National Trust archaeologist at Avebury. “The completion of the work first started by Keiller in the 1930s has revealed an entirely new type of monument at the heart of the world’s largest prehistoric stone circle, using techniques he never dreamt of.”