Friday 19 April 2013

Earlier Stonehenge occupation found

Human beings were occupying Stonehenge thousands of years earlier than previously thought, according to archaeologists.

Research at a site about a mile from the Wiltshire landmark has found evidence of a settlement dating back to 7500BC, 5,000 years earlier than previous findings confirmed.

Carbon-dating of material at the site has revealed continuous occupation of the area between 7500BC and 4700BC, it is set to be revealed on BBC One's The Flying Archaeologist on Friday night.

Experts suggested the team conducting the research had found the community that constructed the first monument at Stonehenge, large wooden posts erected in the Mesolithic period between 8500 and 7000BC.

Open University archaeologist David Jacques and friends started to survey the previously unlooked-at area around a mile from the main monument at Stonehenge when they were still students in 1999. The site contained a spring, leading him to work on the theory that it could have been a water supply for early man.

He said: "In this landscape you can see why archaeologists and antiquarians over the last 200 years had basically honed in on the monument, there is so much to look at and explore.

"I suppose what my team did, which is a slightly fresher version of that, was look at natural places - so where are there places in the landscape where you would imagine animals might have gone to, to have a drink.

"My thinking is where you find wild animals, you tend to find people, certainly hunter-gatherer groups, coming afterwards. What we found was the nearest secure watering hole for animals and people, a type of all year round fresh water source".

Dr Josh Pollard, from Southampton University and the Stonehenge Riverside Project, said he thought the team may have just hit the tip of the iceberg in terms of Mesolithic activity focused on the River Avon around Amesbury.

"The significance of David's work lies in finding substantial evidence of Mesolithic settlement in the Stonehenge landscape - previously largely lacking apart from the enigmatic posts - and being able to demonstrate that there were repeated visits to this area from the 9th to the 5th millennia BC," Dr Pollard added.

(PR release prior to BBC programme release.)

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