January 30, 2007
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Archaeologists have uncovered what may have been a village for workers or festival-goers near the mysterious stone circle Stonehenge in England.
The village was located at Durrington Walls, about two miles from Stonehenge, and is also the location of a wooden version of the stone circle.
Eight houses have been excavated and the researchers believe there were at least 25 of them, archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson said Tuesday at a briefing held by the National Geographic Society. (Watch why find helps clear up Stonehenge mystery )
The village was carbon dated to about 2600 B.C., about the same time Stonehenge was built. The Great Pyramid in Egypt was built at about the same time, said Parker Pearson of Sheffield University.
The small wooden houses had a central hearth, he said, and are almost identical to stone houses built at about the same time in the Orkney Islands.
The researchers speculated that Durrington Walls was a place for the living and Stonehenge -- where several cremated remains have been found -- was a cemetery and memorial.
Parker Pearson said remains of stone tools, animal bones, arrowheads and other artifacts were uncovered in the village. (Watch scientist describe big parties for Stonehenge builders )
Remains of pigs indicated they were about nine months old when killed, which would mark a midwinter festival, he said.
Parker Pearson said Stonehenge was oriented to face the midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset, while the wooden circle at Durrington Walls faced the midwinter sunrise and midsummer sunset.
Julian Thomas of Manchester University noted that both Stonehenge and Durrington Walls have avenues connecting them to the Avon River, indicating a pattern of movement between the sites.
"Clearly, this is a place that was of enormous importance," he said of the new find.
Two of the houses, found by Thomas, were separate from the others and may have been the dwellings of community leaders or perhaps were cult houses used for religious rituals. Those sites lacked the debris and household trash that was common in the other homes, he noted.
Durrington appears "very much a place of the living," Parker Pearson said. In contrast, no one ever lived at the stone circle at Stonehenge, which was the largest cemetery in Britain of its time. Stonehenge is thought to contain 250 cremations.
The research was supported by the National Geographic Society, Arts & Humanities Research Council, English Heritage and Wessex Archaeology.