- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2007

LONDON — Evidence of a large settlement full of houses dating back to 2,600 B.C. has been discovered near the ancient stone monument of Stonehenge in southwest England, scientists said yesterday.

They suspect inhabitants of the houses, forming the largest Neolithic village ever found in Britain, built the stone circle at Stonehenge — generally thought to have been a temple, burial ground or an astronomy site — between 3,000 and 1,600 B.C.

“We found the remains of eight houses,” Mike Parker Pearson, a professor of archaeology at Sheffield University, said in a teleconference to announce the discovery.

“We think they are part of a much larger settlement. I suspect we can identify 25 likely house sites. My guess is that there are many more than that,” he added.

During excavation at Durrington Walls, less than two miles from Stonehenge, scientists working on the seven-year Stonehenge Riverside Project detected dozens of hearths.

They also uncovered the outlines of box beds and wooden dressers or cupboards and 4,600-year-old debris, including burnt stones and animal bones strewn on the clay floors.

“We think we are looking at the village of the builders of Stonehenge,” he added.

The houses measured about 16 feet square and were located in a small valley north of Stonehenge that leads down to the Avon River. They are on either side of an avenue that leads from the river to a wooden version of Stonehenge.

“We think our discovery is very significant for understanding the purpose of Stonehenge. What we have revealed is that Stonehenge is one-half of a larger complex,” said Mr. Parker Pearson, referring to the stone and wooden circles.

The scientists think Stonehenge and Durrington Walls were complementary sites. Neolithic people gathered at Durrington Walls for massive feasts and parties while Stonehenge was a memorial or burial site for the dead.

“We are looking at least a century, probably several centuries of use, at both sites,” said Mr. Parker Pearson.

“Stonehenge is our biggest cemetery from that period. There is a very interesting contrast in terms of life and death,” he added.

Stonehenge’s avenue is aligned on the summer solstice sunrise while the Durrington avenue corresponds with the winter solstice sunset, according to the researchers. Tourists are drawn to Stonehenge throughout the year, but the most popular day at the site is the summer solstice, or longest day of the year.

Druids, a pagan religious order dating back to Celtic Britain, gather at Stonehenge, about 100 miles west of London, during the summer solstice because they believe it was a center of spiritualism.

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