(ORDO NEWS) — One of the most archeologically studied landscapes in the world still surprises.
Scientists from Ghent (Belgium) and Birmingham (Great Britain) universities have explored the deep layers of soil around the ancient megaliths of Stonehenge. They used electromagnetic ground scanning methods, as well as a specially created program for semi-automatic data interpretation.
As a result, researchers have found hundreds of large prehistoric pits and thousands more in the heart of Stonehenge, challenging our understanding of land use at the world’s most heavily explored prehistoric site.
Excavations of six large pits confirmed the assumption of their anthropogenic origin. The largest – more than four meters wide and two meters deep – is dug into the chalk rock. It turns out that its volume is tens of cubic meters, and digging so much with stone tools in relatively hard rock is quite difficult.
The pit is more than ten thousand years old, which means it was dug by early Mesolithic hunter-gatherers who settled Britain after the last ice age. And this is the oldest trace of land use discovered at Stonehenge.
Naked Science has already talked about the discovery of man-made pits (long covered with soil) 3.2 kilometers from Stonehenge. But those recesses suggest their ritual purpose, since they ring large megalithic monuments – Darrington Walls and Woodhenge – and were dug around the time of the construction of both these structures and Stonehenge.
But ten thousand years ago, no Stonehenge megaliths simply existed.
In general, during the work, archaeologists discovered more than 400 large pits covered with earth (each with a diameter of over 2.5 meters), six of which were excavated. The dating is very wide – from the early Mesolithic (about eight thousand years BC) to the Middle Bronze Age (about 1300 BC).
Of course, each of these holes is interesting. Hundreds of new objects in such a studied archaeological landscape – this does not happen every day. But the Mesolithic stands out as exceptional. The size and shape of the hole suggest that it was probably dug as a hunting trap for large game such as boars and deer.
Dated to 8200-7800 BC, this pit is not only one of the earliest of the few Mesolithic sites near Stonehenge (preceding, for example, the Blick Mead site , excavated a mile away), but also the largest known Early Mesolithic pit to the north. -Western Europe.
Mapping of other large pits shows that they are located on high ground to the east and west of Stonehenge. That is, the place that we used to associate with ritual activities, with druids and priests, was actively visited by people almost immediately after they came to the island after the glacier melted.
There are seven millennia between the earliest and latest pits. Whereas the cromlechs (circles of large stones) of Stonehenge, according to the most daring estimates, are no more than 3.2 thousand years old. It turns out that the social context of the activities of the people who lived in those places changed radically over time, but they still continued to dig holes. It’s not clear why.
If you can still believe in pit traps in the Mesolithic, then similar structures in the Neolithic look strange. The density of game by this time should have fallen, and in conditions of developed agriculture, driven hunting in pits does not look quite rational. Digging large holes before the advent of iron shovels is generally labor-intensive, especially in relatively dense chalk.
It is difficult to answer the question of what people were so interested in in the vicinity of Stonehenge. Perhaps new technologies, which are increasingly penetrating the methods of traditional archeology, will help answer this question.
Although the landscape of Stonehenge is unique, the research methods used are applicable to all archaeological environments. Electromagnetic sensors and computer analysis of the information they receive are becoming increasingly important aspects of archaeological research and provide new ways to study ancient sites.
At the same time, they need to be integrated at every stage with the data obtained during traditional excavations.
Only such a combination (when the results of the excavations confirm these techniques) can provide scientists with reliable information. And, as it turns out, if the methods are successfully combined, discoveries can be made even in the seemingly long-studied Stonehenge.
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