For almost a thousand years, England’s kings and queens have lived at Windsor Castle. Yet people have been living in that very same region and building their own impressive structures for thousands more.
Archaeologists have just uncovered the remains of a massive Neolithic monument only 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the royal residence, which, at 5,500 years old, is one of the earliest such monuments ever found in Britain. The construction is an earthen bank structure that forms a complete circle, punctuated at intervals with entrances into the middle. Rarely does the full circumference survive, as it has here.
“This is an exciting find,” John Powell, fieldwork director for Wessex Archaeology, told The Guardian. “We’re talking about 5,500 years ago. These are earliest peoples, who are actually settling down in the landscape and leaving their mark on it. So it’s quite an impressive thing to be able to excavate.”
The monument is what is known as a causewayed enclosure, and is thought to have originally been oval in shape. The series of ditches and mounds has a perimeter of 500 meters (1,640 feet), with entrances into the middle at regular intervals. When it was built, the monument would have likely been on a raised piece of land, poking above a waterlogged environment.
So far, archaeologists have uncovered massive amounts of animal bones, pots that were deliberately smashed, serrated blades, stone axes, and even human remains. The human bones show signs of being manipulated, with cut marks indicating that the limbs were removed from the body. The researchers think that the monument may have been occupied seasonally, with people gathering annually to feast, socialize, and exchange goods.
The Neolithic period in the British Isles is a fascinating time. Beginning around 6,000 years ago, this period is one of great movement and flux, as early migrant farmers started arriving and settling on the land, bringing with them new cultures, technology, and a new way of life. This influx led to the wide-scale adoption of agriculture and a sedentary life replacing the hunter-gathers and nomadic lifestyle of the people who were already living off the land.
This shift not only changed the society and culture of the people, but also the nature of the landscape. Settling in one place to cultivate crops and raise animals meant that more land was needed, and so began the mass deforestation of Britain and the permanent transformation of the landscape.
It also meant that people were starting to live in bigger communities, giving rise to the building of huge megalithic tombs and the monument found at Windsor, of which around 70 others from this period are known of in the British Isles.
[H/T: The Guardian]