Stonehenge and Nearby Stone Circles Were Newcomers to Landscape worked by Ice Age hunters
About 5,000 years ago, not far from Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain in England, some people built a stone circle smaller than its more famous counterpart. But for some reason, sometime after they built it, they dismantled the circle of bluestones and removed them.
Stonehenge and “Bluestonehenge,” as researchers have dubbed it, and other manmade features within a mile or two of the famous site were newcomers among some very ancient human-worked features in the landscape, a group of researchers says.
The archaeologists published an article this month about Bluestonehenge in the journal Antiquity (closed access) that says it and Stonehenge, a third stone circle several hundred meters away known as Amesbury henge and another at Durrington Walls came much later than when Stone Age hunter-gatherers began building features in wood in the area.
A digital reconstruction of Bluestonehenge by Henry Rothwell (Wikimedia Commons)
About 9,000 years ago, some people built wooden features that may have been ceremonial or ritual in nature—possibly aligned to solstice sunsets. Chemical traces of the pinewood are still detectable in the postholes in the soil near Stonehenge.
Prehistoric people built Bluestonehenge out of bluestones that came from far away and later removed those stones to Stonehenge, the researchers think. The smaller Bluestonehenge monument was connected to its more famous counterpart by a feature called the Avenue—a broad road leading from Stonehenge to the River Avon about 500 meters (1640.4 feet) away.
“Stonehenge has long been known to form part of a larger prehistoric landscape,” write archaeologist Michael J. Allen and his colleagues. “In particular, it is part of a composite monument that includes the Stonehenge Avenue and the newly discovered West Amesbury henge, which is situated at the eastern end of the Avenue beside the River Avon. Inside that henge lies an earlier circle of stoneholes, formerly holding small standing stones; this is known as ‘Bluestonehenge’.”
Features of the immediate landscape of Stonehenge include three stone circles, at Stonehenge itself, at the Neolithic village of Durrington Walls, which are still standing, and another that was taken down—Bluestonehenge. (Drawn by Joshua Pollard for Antiquity)
The researchers said the Avenue has been known for centuries, but in 2008 and 2009 the Stonehenge Riverside Project did more explorations and dug new trenches and ascertained that the road reached the River Avon.
“The aim was to establish whether the Avenue was built in more than one phase, and whether it actually reached the river, thereby addressing the theory that Stonehenge was part of a larger complex linked by the river to Durrington Walls henge and its newly discovered avenue, two miles upstream,” they wrote.
All along from 1719 AD through to the present day, researchers have been analyzing the Avenue and digging in it to determine its parameters and purposes. Scholars have proposed theories about the prehistoric banks, ruts, ditches and ridges and stripes in the soil of the Avenue. There has been speculation that the ancient people dug the ditches of the Avenue and built other monuments in the area to align with the winter and summer solstice sunsets.
The Avenue, a road leading from Stonehenge to Bluestonehenge at the River Avon, was part of a larger network of monuments in the area, including stone circles at West Amesbury and Durrington Walls. (Photograph by Adam Stanford in Antiquity)
Stonehenge is near three Early Mesolithic postholes that held pine posts 1 meter (3.1 feet) in diameter. These postholes are 250 meters (820.2 feet) west of the Avenue and hint “at the possibility that this unusual solstitial alignment, formed by the ridges and stripes, was recognised long before the Neolithic. These vertical pine posts or tree-trunks were erected, probably one after the other, in the centuries around 7000 BC by hunter-gatherers, three millennia before the beginning of agriculture in Britain. Monuments built by hunter-gatherers are generally rare; although large pits are known from this period, the Stonehenge postholes are unparalleled anywhere for the Early Mesolithic of Northern Europe.”
Also, along the River Avon researchers have found activity from the 8 th millennium BC through the 5 th millennium BC, “making it, potentially, an unusually ‘persistent place’ within the early Holocene,” the authors wrote. The Holocene was the most recent Ice Age that began around 10,000 years ago.
Stonehenge is situated among a number of nearby prehistoric monuments, including the newly discovered Bluestonehenge, a smaller circle that was 500 meters away at the end of a road leading to the River Avon. (Wikimedia Commons photo/Michael Osmenda)
As for the bluestones of Bluestonehenge, which are missing, the researchers speculate they were taken to Stonehenge. They say they are uncertain of the date of construction of Bluestonehenge, but it occurred about the same time the people were digging the ditches of the Avenue, building West Amesbury henge and rearranging some other bluestones at Stonehenge.
These works were possibly carried out by people of the Beakers culture, the authors wrote.
“The arrival of Beakers and accompanying continental European styles of mortuary practice and material culture signalled a major social and cultural transition in Britain, including the decline of large-scale labour mobilisation for megalith-building,” their paper states.
One of the authors, archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson, has speculated that stone henges were meant for the dead, and wood henges found in the vicinity were features meant for living people.
Top image: Stonehenge, England (public domain)
By Mark Miller