Despite being one of the most iconic sites in the UK, Stonehenge remains frustratingly enigmatic, giving away very few clues as to its origins. However, the discovery of an ancient settlement just 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) from the prehistoric monument may finally provide some answers as to who built it.
Known as Blick Mead, the archaeological site was previously thought to have been a relatively insignificant Roman village, but recent digs have provided evidence that it may in fact have been a Neolithic settlement. Researchers believe it may even be Britain’s first-ever ‘city’, and that its inhabitants probably constructed Stonehenge.
Professor David Jacques, who has been leading the excavation project, told The Telegraph that “at Blick Mead we found shed loads of stuff. Up until 2006 only 30 finds had ever been recovered from this period at any one site, and now we’re up to more than 70,000, so it’s been a total gamechanger.”
These items – many of which are stone tools – are thought to vary greatly in age, with the oldest dating back around 10,000 years. This suggests that Blick Mead was inhabited over a very long period, and was therefore a permanent settlement rather than a transient camp. This insight may even reshape our understanding of how people lived during the Stone Age.
“We’re talking about a very small area that people were coming to again and again and I think it was probably some sort of permanent settlement, so all our ideas of how hunter-gatherers move around in dispersed communities needs to be revised,” explained Jacques.
While the site now sits near to a small spring, several millennia ago it would have been serviced by a sizeable river, making it an excellent spot for a settlement. It is thought that the surrounding plains were inhabited by enormous ancient cattle called aurochs, providing plenty of hunting opportunities.
The discovery of aurochs skulls and bones at Stonehenge itself lends greater weight to the theory that the residents of Blick Mead may have built the famous monument, and that aurochs were seen as sacred as well as a source of food.
Within Blick Mead, archaeologists discovered a 9-meter (30-foot) platform, made from stone flints, which Jacques believes was probably used for religious ceremonies.
“It has a gentle slope down to the water so it would have been useful to pull up a boat. But the interesting thing is it’s made of stone. Other examples of platforms from this time are made of wood, so this suggests it had an air of permanence,” he said.
The latest findings from Blick Mead are to be presented in a new National Geographic documentary called Lost Cities.