'Astonishing' giant circle of pits found near Stonehenge

By Estelle Shirbon
LONDON (Reuters) - Archaeologists have discovered a wide circle of deep pits that surround an old settlement near Stonehenge, opening new avenues for exploring the origins and meaning of the mysterious prehistoric monument.
The standing stones in Stonehenge are one of the most famous landmarks in Britain and attract tourists from all over the world as well as people looking for spiritual connections to the past. Its exact purpose is unknown to scientists.
The recent discovery by a team of archaeologists from several universities shows a 2 km wide shaft circle surrounding a settlement on the Durrington Walls, which also included a henge or circular structure made of wooden posts.
The site is about 3.2 km northeast of Stonehenge and there is evidence that the mines date from the same period, about 4,500 years ago.
"As the place where the builders of Stonehenge lived and celebrated, Durrington Walls is the key to revealing the history of the wider Stonehenge landscape," said National Trust archaeologist Nick Snashall, who runs the Stonehenge site.
"This amazing discovery gives us new insights into the life and beliefs of our Neolithic ancestors," he said.
The circle of pits is significantly larger than any comparable prehistoric monument in Britain. Researchers have found 20 shafts, but estimates suggest that there were originally more than 30. Each is about 5 meters deep and 10 meters wide.
The discovery was made without excavation using remote sensing technology and sampling.
Archaeologists said that the precise and nifty way the pits were positioned suggests that the early residents of Britain used a counting or counting system to track the pace over long distances.
"The size of the shafts and circuits surrounding Durrington Walls is unprecedented in the UK," said Vince Gaffney, professor of archeology at the University of Bradford and one of the project's leading researchers.
He said the discovery showed "the ability and desire of Neolithic communities to record their cosmological belief systems in a way and to an extent that we had never expected before".

(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Michael Holden and Andrew Heavens)
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