Huge shaft belt at Stonehenge was indeed dug by people

The largest prehistoric structure ever found in the UK. That’s how archaeologists described the discovery in June of the curious ring of deep shafts around the ancient settlement of Durrington Walls, about two miles northeast of Stonehenge. Some colleagues were skeptical, but new research shows that the Neolithic pits were indeed man-made.

Skeptics scorned the discovery last year, convinced that the wells, which form a circle two kilometers in diameter, had formed naturally. But that has now been scientifically disproved: It is certain that human hands dug the shafts some 4,500 years ago. The same period in which the prehistoric and mysterious stone monument Stonehenge was built.

Right in the center of the huge shaft belt is the settlement of Durrington Walls, suggesting that it was a sacred site. The archaeological site is located about 2 miles northeast of Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain, near Amesbury in Wiltshire.

Scientists analyzed nine shafts, nearly half of the 20 found. “They’re all the same,” said Professor Vincent Gaffney of the University of Bradford. “That actually means that this is one huge structure.” Each pit is approximately 10 meters wide and 5 meters deep. Science backs up the theory that the Neolithic people who built Stonehenge also excavated this monument.

The underground circle, unknown until last year, is twenty times larger than Stonehenge. The discovery provides new evidence to suggest that early inhabitants of Britain, mainly farming communities, had developed a way of counting, taking hundreds of steps to measure the pits. The boundaries of the shafts may have had cosmological significance, while Stonehenge was clearly associated with solstices.

The soil investigation was carried out using the latest remote sensing technologies, which can indicate even after thousands of years where the soil has been disturbed and allow to find out when sediment was last exposed to daylight.

Speaking of the tests conducted, study leader Tim Kinnaird of the University of St Andrew said they “conclusively prove that the pits date to around 2400 BC”. Extensive laboratory analysis further confirmed that “these were not natural phenomena”.

Then they should have different sizes, as is the case with sinkholes. According to the research data, the shafts were used from the Late Stone Age to the Middle Bronze Age. Then they were allowed to silt up, according to Kinnaird. They were therefore still “maintained after the monument phase of Stonehenge”.

Stonehenge at the top left. In the center is the settlement of Durrington Walls, with the shaft belt around it.
Stonehenge at the top left. In the center is the settlement of Durrington Walls, with the shaft belt around it. ©via REUTERS

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