Hundreds of ancient pits discovered at Stonehenge
A team of geoscientists and archaeologists discovered hundreds of large prehistoric pits during a geophysical survey of the surrounding land. Stonehenge, a World Heritage Site in the South West of England. Many of the pits predate Stonehenge by thousands of years.
These are not the first holey sites in the region. three white spots in the old car park of Stonehenge mark the places where large wooden posts protruded from the ground during the Mesolithic period, around 10,000 years ago. In 2020, a different team of the researchers found 20 pits about 2 miles east of Stonehenge, some of which contained bones and pieces of struck flint. These pits were arranged in a large arc, forming the largest Neolithic site ever discovered in Britain.
The age of the newly discovered pits ranges from 8200 BCE to around 1300 BCE, making some as old as Mesolithic wooden postholes and others younger than Stonehenge itself, which was built around 2500 BCE. The long period over which the holes were dug indicates a long history of excavation among the prehistoric peoples of today’s Wiltshire. The team’s research describing the pits was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
“By combining new geophysical surveying techniques with coring and point excavation, the team has revealed some of the earliest evidence of human activity yet to be discovered in the Stonehenge landscape,” said Nick Snashall, archaeologist for the site of the Stonehenge. Stonehenge & Avebury World Heritage Site and co-author of the paper, at a University of Birmingham Release.
According to the release, the size and shape of the pits indicate they may have been used as hunting traps for large animals that roamed Mesolithic England. Creatures like red deer, wild boar and aurochs – a massive species of wild cattle that went extinct around 400 years ago – may have been hunted into the pits by human hunters.
Large-scale hunting traps dot the human landscape for the past 10,000 years; if the pits were actually used for hunting, they look like giants pit structures found elsewhere in Europe, such as France and Germany. Mesolithic hunters around the world used various traps to catch their prey, such as the massive desert kites– essentially stone corrals – in Saudi Arabia, which trapped animals guided inside.
The team found 415 graves in a one square kilometer area around Stonehenge. They used an electromagnetic surveyor, which can detect underground structures by measuring how electric fields pass through the ground and bounce back to a sensor. Then they sampled 62 of the sites, excavated nine of them, and determined the age of each pit using radiocarbon dating.
“From the earliest hunter-gatherers of the Holocene to the inhabitants of Bronze Age farms and terrain systems, the archeology we detect is the result of a complex and ever-changing occupation of the landscape,” said Paul Garwood, archaeologist at the University of Birmingham. and a co-author of the research, in the university statement.
It’s no shock that a region of England that has been inhabited for so long has more secrets to divulge. But it’s exciting that even at a famous and well-studied site like Stonehenge, there’s still more to discover.
More: Stonehenge Started Out as an Entirely Different Henge, New Research Shows