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Youth and Education news
 December 1, 2010, Volume

Archaeologists Discover Stonehenge's Timber Twin
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A woodhenge similar to the new discovery

England: Stonehenge is ancient and mysterious circle of giant obelisks on the Salisbury Plain.  A new archaeological survey suggests it may have once had a nearby wooden "twin."  Archaeologists are calling it "Woodhenge."

A" henge" describes any British circular ritual site dating from 3,000 - 2,000 B.C.

"The idea of finding something as significant and dramatic as this monument, so close to Stonehenge, is just brilliant," said archaeologist Henry Chapman. "It will completely change the way we think about Stonehenge and the surrounding landscape."

A team of archaeologists found the new henge by using sensors that show a high-definition 3-D view of what's under the ground. The monument was composed of six rings of wooden posts enclosed by an earthen embankment.

 "Every time you excavate, you damage the site by moving material," Chapman says. "With the technology we use, such as ground-penetrating radar, there's no need to dig."

The scientists discovered a circle of 24 post holes underground, less than 3,000 feet from Stonehenge. The ring measured about 82 feet in diameter -- 17 feet less than Stonehenge. It was enclosed by an inner ditch and possibly Archaeologists discover another Stonehenge-like structure close to the originalan outer bank.

"The post holes are up to a meter in diameter, which suggests that the timbers they'd have held would have been at least 10 feet high," Chapman says.

Chapman believes it was built about 4,500 years ago, near the time that Stonehenge's world-famous trilithons were erected.

Trilithons are prehistoric structures with two upright stone blocks that support a third which lies across the top.

The newly discovered monument mirrors a nearby henge uncovered in 1937. That circle overlooks the ancient stone structure and has two entrances. All three henges appear to have been deliberately aligned.

"... what we're seeing is that Stonehenge, when it entered its very grand phrase, wasn't the only structure in the area," Chapman said.  "It was surrounded by other complex structures, that may have been used much like medieval cathedrals." So instead of being the focus of all the ancient folks' attention, Stonehenge was likely just one ... part of the religious landscape.

A different woodhenge reconstruction

While ancient Britons didn't record their thoughts, the latest discovery offers insighst into their beliefs. Chapman  suggests  "wood and stone" may be connected as "symbolic meanings" for ancient Brits.  Another archaeologist, Mike Parker Pearson, is a henge expert. He suggests the wooden structures may have be related to feasts for the living, while the stone circles were realms of the dead.

About 5 square miles of land around Stonehenge will be scanned by 2014. That information will be provided in a detailed map.

"I think in the next four years, we're going to have quite a different understanding of Stonehenge," Chapman says. "We're going to fill in the detail between the standing monuments, and hopefully by doing that, show the complexities and subtleties of the Neolithic people who were here."

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