Archeologists Were Wrong About 'Superhenge'

The ring of structures underneath Stonehenge are not made of stone.
August 15, 2016, 6:35pm
Stonehenge. Image: Wikimedia

Last year archeologists discovered "Superhenge", or what was thought to be around 90 stone monolithic structures buried a meter below ground, just a few kilometers northeast of the Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England. The blocks were over 4,500 years old.

It turns out, however, that the circular Superhenge was actually made of timber, and that it was hurriedly taken down. The research team that made this discovery hypothesize that the Superhenge might have been constructed and deconstructed during a tumultuous time, rife with political or religious conflict.

Geophysical survey techniques allowed scientists to first discover Superhenge and conclude that each monolith was organized in a circle with a diameter of about 500 meters. They did not actually, however, excavate the site.

Now a recent excavation of the Superhenge site has revealed that the standing monoliths were neither standing, nor stone, nor even monolithic. These structures are actually giant pits that once contained wooden posts.

"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," Nick Snashall, UK National Trust archeologist, told the BBC.

So far two of the pits have been excavated, officially disproving the stone theory. "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," said Snashall. "They did contain timbers which have been vertically lifted out and removed at some stage. The top was then filled in with chalk rubble and then the giant henge bank was raised over the top."

It's not clear, however, why the original builders of the Superhenge took out the wooden posts and left the ditch that scientists discovered today. It also seems as if the circle of wooden posts was never actually completed. Instead, when the posts were removed, the ditches were filled with chalk. At the bottom of one of the holes, archeologists also found a spade tool, made from a cow's shoulder blade.

The story of the Superhenge is not yet clear, but some theorize that the site reflects Britain's tumult as tribal society shifted from the Neolithic period to the Bronze Age, and the change in religious practice around that time, too.