Neolithic and early Bronze Age Europe are often seen as an enigmatic, complex, and even magical time in the history of the old continent. A few thousands of years before the rise of Rome, European inhabitants were constructing monuments whose meaning has been lost to time. Now new research provides us with some more insight.
German archeologists have excavated a Neolithic site near the town of Pömmelte in central Germany. The area is the location of an ancient sanctuary comprised of ringed mounds, ditches, and wooden posts. It is a contemporary of Stonehenge, and the researchers believe that the new discovery strengthens the case for sanctuaries like the British henges that exist in Portugal and Spain, across Central Europe, and all the way to Bulgaria. The new findings are published in the journal Antiquity.
“The henge monuments of the British Isles are generally considered to represent a uniquely British phenomenon, unrelated to Continental Europe; this position should now be reconsidered,” the researchers write in the paper. “The uniqueness of Stonehenge lies, strictly speaking, with its monumental megalithic architecture.”
Archeological findings at the sanctuary of Pömmelte suggest that the ringed structures were venues for communal gatherings, ritual activities, and performances. The team uncovered pits that revealed some of the activities taking place at the site.
The material discovered suggest the sanctuary was in use for 300 consecutive years. The earliest phase was dated at 2300 BCE, in which the researchers found broken bits of ceramic drinking vessels, stone axes, and animal bones. These fragments are surprisingly similar in size, which suggests they were probably ritually destroyed before being thrown into the pits.
There are also more gruesome findings. The archeologists discovered the dismembered body of 10 children and women, four of whom show signs of skull trauma and fractured ribs. It is unclear what the circumstance of their deaths was, but ritual sacrifice is a strong possibility. On the other hand, the remains of several men that were buried with care were also unearthed. Similar to Stonehenge, the site wasn’t inhabited. People came there for seasonal events, ceremonies, and possibly for important deaths as the burials suggest.
The Pömmelte sanctuary was discovered in 1991 thanks to aerial photographs. Archeologists discovered seven concentric rings, the largest of which is 115 meters (377 feet) in diameter. About a decade ago, researchers also discovered post holes where wooden fences once stood.