Last year, researchers announced that they had made one of the most significant archaeological discoveries in British history. Just 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the world famous monument of Stonehenge, they uncovered evidence that there had once been another henge, but this one was 500 meters (1,640 feet) wide. Known as the Durrington Walls “Superhenge”, it now seems that rather than being built out of stone like its smaller cousin, this giant monument may have been constructed from wood.
Constructed 4,500 years ago, the superhenge is thought to be the largest Neolithic structure ever found in Britain, but after carrying out some exploratory digs, the researchers are discovering that it is not quite what they initially thought. During the first scans of the massive site, which is surrounded by a bank of earth, they thought they found indications that there were stones still lying on the ground, and assumed that they must once have been standing.
“The response from the radar was so good that the team thought they were dealing with a whole series of stones lying on their side, buried beneath the bank of this ancient earthwork,” Dr Nicola Snashall, an archaeologist for the National Trust, told BBC News. "What we've discovered are that there are two enormous pits for timber posts. They have got ramps at the sides to lower posts into.”
It seems that rather than being constructed from stone, the original superhenge may have been built out of timber, and then seemingly hastily deconstructed, leaving only the large holes behind. The post holes were then back-filled with chalk rubble, and the massive bank that now surrounds the henge built up around it. Even more intriguing is the fact that it appears as if the enormous wooden monument was never fully completed before it was torn down and filled in.
What may have led those who began the original monument, thought to have been the same people who raised Stonehenge, to have partially built and then destroyed it is still unknown. One suggestion, however, is that the construction of the superhenge took place during an era of particularly intense religious and political upheaval, and that a dramatic shift in religion at the time may have halted its full construction and led to its rapid destruction.
More excavations are currently planned, and hopefully with it more clues may be unearthed.