Massive Ancient "Fire Monument" In England Predates Stonehenge

The purpose of the 5,300-year-old monument remains unknown. Rajesh Narayanan/Shutterstock

A peculiar and poorly understood “fire monument” has been found in England that’s 5,300 years old – predating the construction of Stonehenge by 800 years, at least.

Located in Avebury, England, the monument is so large that it can only truly be seen from the sky. It is hourglass-shaped and contains two circular enclosures that are outlined by wooden posts. At some point in the ancient past, these posts – and whatever was within the monument’s enclosures – were set alight, for purposes unknown. It was probably used during a short-lived ceremony just 37 kilometers (23 miles) from where Stonehenge was eventually built.

Whatever the reasons behind its construction and spectacular destruction, it would have been quite the sight, in any case.

The site was first discovered in the 1960s, when a pipeline was being built through the area. Over time, excavations revealed the scale of the monument, and eventually, it was found that much of the outline of it was burned and charred. Archaeological evidence nearby does show that a mastery of fire permitted the use of barbecues used, as one would expect, to cook food.

In fact, the nearby Durrington Wall – another Neolithic (New Stone Age) settlement – shows that this type of activity took place here, and may have even been the accommodation site for some of Stonehenge’s builders.

The hourglass site at Avebury, however, was probably not used in the same way. The circles are huge, and together, they span a length of 4 kilometers (about 2.5 miles). This gigantic fire was not likely used for a feast, but some sort of ceremonial practice.

The site was no mere pile of logs. It would have taken hundreds of trees to build, and a lot of precise trench excavation. This was no haphazard monument; it was a complex construction project that certainly needed careful planning and direction.

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Pottery shards found within the monument do date back to the time of Stonehenge, but carbon-dating techniques by Historic England have now confirmed that the site itself is almost a thousand years older. This means it was constructed during what is a relatively mysterious part of British history, during which archaeologists know very little about.

It should be noted that 5,300 years ago, Britain was a very different society from the one immediately following on from Stonehenge.

A dramatic new study revealed last month that an invasion of unknown peoples took place about 4,500 years ago, roughly when the famous lithological circle was built. The invasion was so successful that 90 percent of the country’s gene pool changed almost overnight.

Did the practice of building fire monuments like the one at Avebury also die out post-invasion? Was there a huge cultural switchover at the same time? Watch this space!

 [H/T: LiveScience]

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