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4,400-year-old ruins found near ceremonial site in Britain

4,400-year-old ruins found near ceremonial site may be the oldest house ever found in Britain

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Archaeologists are excavating the remnants of a house up to 4,400-years old on the site of Marden Henge, England, which lies halfway between the World Heritage Sites of Stonehenge and Avebury. Marden, about which little is known, is the largest and one of the most important ancient ceremonial sites in Britain, researchers say. The house is thought to be one of the oldest homes ever unearthed in the country.

"Marden Henge is located on a line which connects Stonehenge and Avebury,” said lead archaeologist Jim Leary in a press release from the University of Reading in England. “This poses some fascinating questions. Were the three monuments competing against each other? Or were they used by the same communities but for different occasions and ceremonies? We hope to find out."

Two amateur archaeologists, Sir Richard Colt Hoare and William Cunnington, dug a shaft into a huge burial mound in the early 1800s. They didn't close the shaft, perhaps meaning to return to it. But the entire mound collapsed, and all that remains there is a 3 cm rise in the ground. A farmer later filled in a moat that had surrounded the barrow.

The site of Marden Henge in Wiltshire

The site of Marden Henge in Wiltshire (Snip View)

“Their scrappy records torment the modern archaeologists, including references to animal bones, burned wood, and 'two small parcels of burned human bones,” says The Guardian.

This latest excavation and research project, which will explore and record the huge site, will take place over three years.

“Built around 2400 BC ‘Marden' is the largest henge in the country and one of Britain's most important but least understood prehistoric monuments,” the Reading press release says. “Excavation within the Henge will focus on the surface of what is thought to be one of the oldest houses in Britain, a Neolithic building revealed during earlier excavations. The people who used this building will have seen Stonehenge in full swing, perhaps even helped to haul the huge stones upright.”

Peary is quoted in the press release as saying: “This excavation is the beginning of a new chapter in the story of Stonehenge and its surrounds. The Vale of Pewsey is a relatively untouched archaeological treasure-chest under the shadow of one of the wonders of the world. Why Stonehenge was built remains a mystery. How the giant stones were transported almost defy belief. It must have been an astonishing, perhaps frightening, sight. Using the latest survey, excavation and scientific techniques, the project will reveal priceless insight into the lives of those who witnessed its construction.”

Some of the standing stones at Avebury

Some of the standing stones at Avebury (Photo by Jim Champion/Wikimedia Commons)

As part of Britain's national festival of archaeology, visitors will be allowed to tour the site on July 18. They will see one of the best-preserved homes from that period of about 4,400 years ago, says The Guardian.

“The house and other parts of the huge site have already produced finds, including beautifully worked flint arrowheads and blades, decorated pottery including some pieces with the residue of the last meals cooked in them, shale and copper bracelets and a beautiful little Roman brooch – and the tiny jawbone of a vole. Analysis of the mass of seeds and charred grains recovered will reveal what the people were growing and eating,” says the The Guardian. “Pig bones – probably the remains of at least 13 animals, food for hundreds of people – and scorch marks from a charcoal firepit suggest the house was never a permanent residence but connected with great gatherings for feasts. When it was abandoned the entire site, pig bones and all, was cleaned and neatly covered with earth, so it would never be used again.”

Arrowheads found at the site

Arrowheads found at the site (University of Reading photo)

The house that is being excavated was on a terrace in a small circle of earthen banks. The site had ramparts that researchers think were 3 meters (10 feet) tall that enclosed 15 hectares (37 acres). This is far larger than Avebury, where the stones for Stonehenge came from, and larger than Stonehenge itself. Leary says it was too big for a practical purpose, telling The Guardian it may have been to show off power and wealth in the ability to enlist a large workforce.

Also at the site is a previously undiscovered Roman complex that includes the foundations of a barn and a deserted medieval village.

Featured image: Jim Leary, lead archaeologist, with the remnants of the walls and the floor of the ancient home at Marden Henge (University of Reading photo)

By Mark Miller

Mark Miller's picture


Mark Miller has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and is a former newspaper and magazine writer and copy editor who's long been interested in anthropology, mythology and ancient history. His hobbies are writing and drawing.

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