Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Unearthed: The wild town next to Stonehenge where the builders partied like it was 2500 BC

Now this is a really amazing discovery, I'm going to be looking forward to finding out more as they release more information.

Unearthed: The wild town next to Stonehenge where the builders partied like it was 2500 BC

By Cahal Milmo

Published: 31 January 2007

By any standards, it was a wild party: piles of half-eaten pig bones were flung to the floor by revellers who then smashed their food bowls into a "filthy" mud floor.
Add to that the fact that this bash took place 4,600 years ago, less than two miles from Stonehenge, and the result is a dramatic step forward in the quest to trace the origins - and purpose - of the world's most famous standing stones.
Archaeologists have revealed the discovery of a huge ancient settlement in Wiltshire used by the builders of Stonehenge and their descendants to celebrate life and death with lavish feasts of freshly slaughtered livestock.

Excavations at Durrington Walls, situated to the north-east of Stonehenge, have uncovered the largest Neolithic village in Britain.
Experts, who found vast quantities of pig and cattle bones along with broken pottery, believe it would have held up to 100 houses adjacent to a wooden monument mirroring Stonehenge and formed part of a "religious complex" surrounding the stone circle.
The dwellings, which were about 16ft square and contained built-in beds and wooden dressers, are the first evidence of human habitation close to the stones on Salisbury Plain.

The team also excavated an imposing 30-metre avenue between Durrington Walls and the river Avon, about a mile to the south, where Ancient Britons may have deposited their dead.
The new avenue mirrors another wide pathway, discovered in the 18th century, which leads from the famous stones to the river.
Professor Mike Parker Pearson, from Sheffield University, who co-led the excavations, said: "We believe Durrington was a complementary site to Stonehenge. It was a place for the living to come to celebrate and bring the ashes and bones of ancestors, I think, to be deposited into the river. The village was more than houses. There was a clear sequence between the sites. People would come to mark the winter and summer solstices, using the avenue to reach the river and then walk back up the other avenue to reach the sacred site."

The houses at Durrington Walls, which contained a separate wooden timber circle similar in design to Stonehenge, have been radiocarbon-dated to 2600BC to 2500BC - the period in which the stone circle was built.
The British team, whose work was funded by the National Geographic Society, believe the dwellings were therefore used by those who constructed Stonehenge.
But further evidence suggests the site was much more than a builders' dormitory. The avenue leading from Durrington is aligned with the sunset for the midsummer solstice while that from Stonehenge would have given a perfect view of the sunset.

Similarly, the Durrington circle was aligned with sunrise for the midwinter solstice and Stonehenge would have framed the sunset, suggesting that generations of inhabitants made twice-yearly pilgrimages along the routes.
The Durrington avenue ends at a four-metre high cliff. Professor Parker Pearson said: "My guess is that they were throwing ashes, human bones and perhaps even whole bodies into the water, a practice seen in other river settings."

The result, according the archaeologists, is evidence that the Durrington village attracted Neolithic tribesmen from across the region for vast midwinter bacchanals. Enormous piles of pig and cattle bones were found along with shards of pottery which contain chemical traces of a milk and meat stew consumed by the pilgrims.

Professor Parker Pearson said: "It is the richest - by which I mean the filthiest - site of this period known in Britain. We've never seen such quantities of pottery, animal bone and flint.
"The dating of the pigs' teeth suggests they were killed at nine months in time for the midwinter solstice. It would have been a sort of Neolithic Christmas - they had a really good party