Ancient ceremonial complex in England 1,000 yrs older than Stonehenge

June 16th, 2009 - 12:33 pm ICT by ANI  

National Geographic Washington, June 16 (ANI): Scientists, by spotting strange crop circle-like formations from the air, have discovered a huge prehistoric ceremonial complex in southern England, which dating back to 6,000 years, is a thousand years older than the Stonehenge.

The site includes the remains of wooden temples and two massive, 6,000-year-old tombs that are among “Britain’s first architecture,” archaeologist Helen Wickstead, leader of the Damerham Archaeology Project, told National Geographic News.

For such a site to have lain hidden for so long is “completely amazing,” said Wickstead, of Kingston University in London.

According to archaeologist Joshua Pollard, the discovery is “remarkable,” given the decades of intense archaeological attention to the greater Stonehenge region.

“I think everybody assumed such monument complexes were known about or had already been discovered,” added Pollard.

At the 500-acre (200-hectare) site, outlines of the structures were spotted “etched” into farmland near the village of Damerham, some 15 miles (24 kilometers) from Stonehenge.

Discovered during a routine aerial survey by English Heritage, the UK government’s historic-preservation agency, the “crop circles” are the results of buried archaeological structures interfering with plant growth.

True crop circles are vast designs created by flattening crops.

The central features are two great tombs topped by massive mounds-made shorter by centuries of plowing-called long barrows.

The larger of the two tombs is 70 meters (230 feet) long.

Estimated at 6,000 years old, based on the dates of similar tombs around the UK, the long barrows are also the oldest elements of the complex.

“Such oblong burial mounds are very rare finds, and are the country’s earliest known architectural form,” Wickstead said.

The Damerham tombs have yet to be excavated, but experts say the long barrows likely contain chambers, probably carved into chalk bedrock and reinforced with wood, filled with human bones associated with ancestor worship.

“These are bone houses, in a way. Instead of whole bodies, the tombs contain parts of ancestors,” Wickstead explained.

Damerham also includes a highly unusual, and so far baffling, U-shaped enclosure with postholes dated to the Bronze Age.

The circled outlines of 26 Bronze Age burial mounds also dot the site, which is littered with stone flint tools and shattered examples of the earliest known type of pottery in Britain.

Evidence of prehistoric agricultural fields suggest the area was at least partly cultivated by the time the Romans invaded Britain in the first century AD, generally considered to be the end of the regions’ prehistoric period. (ANI)

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