Stonehenge, an enigma to visitors and scientists alike for many years, may be less of a mystery after an “incredible” discovery announced to the world this week.
Archaeologists have unearthed a new stone circle near Stonehenge that lends credence to the theory that the famous prehistoric monument in Britain was part of a funeral complex. Researchers have named the discovery, Bluestonehenge, after the color of the 25 Welsh stones of which it was once made up. Bluestonehenge sits along the River Avon just a mile away from the famous stone circle, said researchers from the University of Sheffield who have been excavating at the site. The research team believes that Bluestonehenge was the starting point of an almost two-mile funeral processional route that led to a large Stone Age cemetery. “It could be that Bluestonehenge was where the dead began their final journey to Stonehenge,” said Mike Parker Pearson, an archaeologist at the University of Sheffield who directed the project. “Not many people know that Stonehenge was Britain’s largest burial ground at that time,” he said. “Maybe the bluestone circle is where people were cremated before their ashes were buried at Stonehenge itself.” The archaeologists said the discovery of the lost stone circle may be confirmation that Stonehenge was a “domain of the dead” linked to a “domain of the living” by the River Avon. Pottery, animal bones, food residues and flint tools used in the Stone Age are decidedly absent at Stonehenge, but were found upstream in a village discovered by the excavation team in 2005. For decades, scientists have debated Stonehenge, a popular tourist destination 90 miles west of London. Known for its orientation in relation to the rising and setting sun, the circle of stones represented a temple to some. Others argued it was an astronomical observatory. Archaeologists began the latest excavation with the hope that the blue stones would resolve the mystery. They were not disappointed. “This is an incredible discovery,” said John Pollard, co-director of the project. “The newly discovered circle and henge should be considered an integral part of Stonehenge rather than a separate monument, and it offers tremendous insight into the history of its famous neighbor,” he said. The stones at Bluestonehenge were removed thousands of years ago, the researchers said, but the sizes of the holes in which they once stood indicated a circle of gigantic blue stones from the Preseli mountains of Wales, about 150 miles away. The researchers believe that Neolithic people dragged the blue stones along the processional route to Stonehenge to incorporate them in a major rebuilding that took place around 2500 BC. Archaeologists know that after 2500 B.C., Stonehenge consisted of about 60 Welsh stones and 83 local sarsen stones. Some of the blue stones that once stood on the river’s edge probably now stand within the center of Stonehenge. Scientists plan to use radiocarbon dating techniques to better understand the history of Stonehenge.