Stonehenge not a henge; new “henge” not stone

Archaeologists have discovered a wooden monument near Stonehenge which appears to resemble the original.

While this won’t be the most famous Stonehenge-inspired structure (that was a polystyrene reproduction in a 1:12 scale), it has been described by the dig’s leader as the first major ceremonial monument discovered in the past half-century.

Vince Gaffney of the University of Birmingham said the discovery will “completely change the way we think about the landscape around Stonehenge.”

The new discovery was found just over half a mile away from Stonehenge and appears to have been a round wooden structure with two entrances. That’s only supposition though, as what’s been found is simply the foundations: a circle of holes surrounding several deep pits. Further excavation will be needed to confirm it is indeed a henge.

The dig which uncovered the foundations is attempting to map 14 square kilometers around Stonehenge. The new find is the latest evidence that Stonehenge itself was simply part of a larger site. It’s even possible that it may not have been considered the most important structure at the time it was built and is simply seen as such today because it hasn’t rotted away. (That does seem unlikely given its size, however.)

Professor Wolfgang Neubauer, Director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute, a partner on the dig, said: “This is just the beginning. We will now map this monument using an array of technologies that will allow us to view this new discovery, and the landscape around it, in three dimensions.”

If you’re wondering why nobody ever came across the new discovery before, it’s because the sheer cost of archaeology means there’s something of a vicious circle: digs generally only take place where there’s already an expectation of finding something.

While it will be tempting to dub the new discovery Woodhenge, that name is already taken: it was a burial ground surrounded by six rings of timber posts, in turn surrounded by a ditch, located two miles from Stonehenge.

The discovery has also thrown up a trivia note: Mike Pitts, the editor of British Archaeology magazine, says that technically Stonehenge isn’t a henge. The formal definition of a henge is a circular structure surrounded by both a ditch and a bank, with the bank on the outside. It’s the other way round with Stonehenge, meaning that it’s really a fort.

(Picture credit: University of Birmingham)

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