Prehistoric HUNTING PITS discovered at Stonehenge: Thousands of holes were dug by hunter-gatherers to catch deer and wild boar 10,000 years ago
- Thousands of prehistoric hunting pits have been unearthed close to Stonehenge
- Archaeologists think they were dug by hunter-gatherers about 10,000 years ago
- One pit, at 13ft wide and 6.5ft deep, is the largest of its kind in north-west Europe
- Finding shows ancient humans roamed landscape during early Mesolithic period
Thousands of prehistoric hunting pits that are believed to have been used to catch deer and wild boar have been unearthed near Stonehenge.
Archaeologists think they were dug by hunter-gatherers 10,000 years ago — about 5,000 years before the UNESCO World Heritage site was built.
One of the pits, which was 13ft (4m) wide and 6.5ft (2m) deep, is the largest of its kind in north-west Europe.
The discovery shows ancient humans roamed the landscape during the early Mesolithic period, researchers say, when Britain was re-inhabited after the last Ice Age.
The pits date from between 8,200 BCE and 7,800 BCE and were uncovered by University of Birmingham and Ghent University researchers using a combination of novel geophysics and ‘traditional’ archaeology.
Discovery: Thousands of prehistoric hunting pits that are believed to have been used to catch deer and wild boar have been unearthed near Stonehenge
The discovery shows ancient humans roamed the Stonehenge landscape during the early Mesolithic period, researchers say, when Britain was re-inhabited after the last Ice Age
STONEHENGE’S CONSTRUCTION REQUIRED GREAT INGENUITY
Stonehenge was built thousands of years before machinery was invented.
The heavy rocks weigh upwards of several tonnes each.
Some of the stones are believed to have originated from a quarry in Wales, some 140 miles (225km) away from the Wiltshire monument.
To do this would have required a high degree of ingenuity, and experts believe the ancient engineers used a pulley system over a shifting conveyor-belt of logs.
Historians now think that the ring of stones was built in several different stages, with the first completed around 5,000 years ago by Neolithic Britons who used primitive tools, possibly made from deer antlers.
Modern scientists now widely believe that Stonehenge was created by several different tribes over time.
After the Neolithic Britons – likely natives of the British Isles – started the construction, it was continued centuries later by their descendants.
Over time, the descendants developed a more communal way of life and better tools which helped in the erection of the stones.
Bones, tools and other artefacts found on the site seem to support this hypothesis.
A technique known as electromagnetic induction survey, which uses the electrical conductivity of soil to provide information that can be used to find materials underground, helped experts make the discovery.
The University of Birmingham said it was the first time one had been used on the Stonehenge landscape.
It led to the identification of more than 400 potential large pits — each over 8.2ft (2.5m) in diameter — of which, six were excavated during the course of the project.
These ranged in date from the Early Mesolithic (8,000 BCE) to the Middle Bronze Age (1,300 BCE).
The researchers said that while each of these sites adds to our knowledge of prehistoric activity in the Stonehenge landscape, the Mesolithic pit stands out as exceptional.
The size and shape of the pit suggest it was probably dug as a hunting trap for large game such as aurochs, red deer and wild boar, they added.
Paul Garwood, senior lecturer in prehistory at the University of Birmingham, said: ‘What we’re seeing is not a snapshot of one moment in time.
‘The traces we see in our data span millennia, as indicated by the seven-thousand-year timeframe between the oldest and most recent prehistoric pits we’ve excavated.
‘From early Holocene hunter-gatherers to later Bronze Age inhabitants of farms and field systems, the archaeology we’re detecting is the result of complex and ever-changing occupation of the landscape.’
Philippe De Smedt, associate professor at Ghent University, said: ‘Geophysical survey allows us to visualise what’s buried below the surface of entire landscapes.
‘The maps we create offer a high-resolution view of subsurface soil variation that can be targeted with unprecedented precision.’
He added: ‘Using this as a guide to sample the landscape, taking archaeological “biopsies” of subsurface deposits, we were able to add archaeological meaning to the complex variations discovered in the landscape.’
From 2017, the team carried out excavations to evaluate just how accurate the results of the geophysical survey mapping and interpretation had been.
These samples provided information for developing a model of types of archaeological evidence revealed in the geophysical data, resulting in computer-generated maps of traces of prehistoric activity.
A technique known as electromagnetic induction survey, which uses the electrical conductivity of soil to provide information that can be used to find materials underground, helped experts make the discovery
The research led to the identification of more than 400 potential large pits — each over 8.2ft (2.5m) in diameter — of which, six were excavated during the course of the project (pictured)
Dr Nick Snashall, an archaeologist for the Stonehenge & Avebury World Heritage Site, said: ‘By combining new geophysical survey techniques with coring, and pin point excavation, the team has revealed some of the earliest evidence of human activity yet unearthed in the Stonehenge landscape.
‘The discovery of the largest known Early Mesolithic pit in north-west Europe shows that this was a special place for hunter-gatherer communities thousands of years before the first stones were erected.’
Last month a new study found that red deer, elk and wild boar would have roamed the Stonehenge area 4,000 years before the stones were constructed.
University of Southampton researchers examined a nearby Mesolithic site and found the area was not a forest as previously thought, but instead would probably have been populated by grazing animals and hunter-gatherers.
The new study has been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
The Stonehenge monument standing today was the final stage of a four part building project that ended 3,500 years ago
Stonehenge is one of the most prominent prehistoric monuments in Britain. The Stonehenge that can be seen today is the final stage that was completed about 3,500 years ago.
According to the monument’s website, Stonehenge was built in four stages:
First stage: The first version of Stonehenge was a large earthwork or Henge, comprising a ditch, bank and the Aubrey holes, all probably built around 3100 BC.
The Aubrey holes are round pits in the chalk, about one metre (3.3 feet) wide and deep, with steep sides and flat bottoms.
Stonehenge (pictured) is one of the most prominent prehistoric monuments in Britain
They form a circle about 86.6 metres (284 feet) in diameter.
Excavations revealed cremated human bones in some of the chalk filling, but the holes themselves were likely not made to be used as graves, but as part of a religious ceremony.
After this first stage, Stonehenge was abandoned and left untouched for more than 1,000 years.
Second stage: The second and most dramatic stage of Stonehenge started around 2150 years BC, when about 82 bluestones from the Preseli mountains in south-west Wales were transported to the site. It’s thought that the stones, some of which weigh four tonnes each, were dragged on rollers and sledges to the waters at Milford Haven, where they were loaded onto rafts.
They were carried on water along the south coast of Wales and up the rivers Avon and Frome, before being dragged overland again near Warminster and Wiltshire.
The final stage of the journey was mainly by water, down the river Wylye to Salisbury, then the Salisbury Avon to west Amesbury.
The journey spanned nearly 240 miles, and once at the site, the stones were set up in the centre to form an incomplete double circle.
During the same period, the original entrance was widened and a pair of Heel Stones were erected. The nearer part of the Avenue, connecting Stonehenge with the River Avon, was built aligned with the midsummer sunrise.
Third stage: The third stage of Stonehenge, which took place about 2000 years BC, saw the arrival of the sarsen stones (a type of sandstone), which were larger than the bluestones.
They were likely brought from the Marlborough Downs (40 kilometres, or 25 miles, north of Stonehenge).
The largest of the sarsen stones transported to Stonehenge weighs 50 tonnes, and transportation by water would not have been possible, so it’s suspected that they were transported using sledges and ropes.
Calculations have shown that it would have taken 500 men using leather ropes to pull one stone, with an extra 100 men needed to lay the rollers in front of the sledge.
These stones were arranged in an outer circle with a continuous run of lintels – horizontal supports.
Inside the circle, five trilithons – structures consisting of two upright stones and a third across the top as a lintel – were placed in a horseshoe arrangement, which can still be seen today.
Final stage: The fourth and final stage took place just after 1500 years BC, when the smaller bluestones were rearranged in the horseshoe and circle that can be seen today.
The original number of stones in the bluestone circle was probably around 60, but these have since been removed or broken up. Some remain as stumps below ground level.