New excavation near Stonehenge: first evidence shows mystery shapes beneath Durrington's henge are empty post holes not stones

Written by Tony Millett on .

Blue plastic sheeting covers one pit - the other lies under the light coloured patch of chalkBlue plastic sheeting covers one pit - the other lies under the light coloured patch of chalkIt's an opening in the grass meadow on the Durrington Walls henge about seven metres by six metres and cut at the beginning of the week - and already it is revealing intriguing evidence.  

While Marlborough.News was at the site on day two of the dig, the archaeologists announced they had found the floor of a Neolithic house.  

That discovery is just a by-product of this excavation.  The real aim is to investigate two of the two hundred and more mysterious 'anomalies' lying beneath the 4,500 year-old bank at Durrington Walls which were revealed by recent geo-physical surveys led by Professor Vince Gaffney using ground penetrating radar and other technologies.  

One school of thought was that they were the remains of old standing stones.  Had this been the case it would have radically changed our views of the whole Stonehenge complex.

The alternative theory - held by Professor Mike Parker Pearson - was that they might be pits dug to hold giant wooden posts - but then filled in again when there was a change of plan.

It is now certain that the Parker Pearson theory is right.  They have found two pits, which had been sunk before the bank was built.  And so far they have found no signs of old or broken up standing stones.

One pit has been partly excavated - and may never have held a post.  Work on the other one and a nearby heap of spoil probably dug from one of the pits, is still going on.  This second pit may have once held a post that decayed in situ.


Professor Mike Parker Pearson told Marlborough.News about the pits which were made to take huge wooden poles standing about twenty feet above the surface: "Each pit has a vertical shaft and a ramp to guide the huge post into the hole - it would then be raised and packed with flints and chalk. But here no posts were put in - the holes were filled in with soft material - loose soil and wood ash."

Prof Parker Pearson takes a pickaxe to the upper layers of chalkProf Parker Pearson takes a pickaxe to the upper layers of chalk The house floor with traces of burnt material & - top left - the covered pit The house floor with traces of burnt material & - top left - the covered pit Prof Parker Pearson getting down to some finer workProf Parker Pearson getting down to some finer work

He believes there was a bit of what he laughingly calls "Neolithic managerial incompetence" in deciding to commemorate the site with timber posts:  "Wooden posts would have lasted about 150 years. They wanted something that would last for ever - so they changed their plan and built the bank.  That's a real statement of memory and commemoration - and authority."

He points out that organising the building of Stonehenge, its associated sites like the giant cursus and Durrington henge involved a huge number of people.  He reckons 600 people were involved in making the Durrington post holes and 4,000 in building the bank - that needs 'authority' and organisation.

Prof Vince Gaffney & National Trust's Dr Nick SnashallProf Vince Gaffney & National Trust's Dr Nick Snashall Probably a Neolithic spoil heapProbably a Neolithic spoil heap Bones exposedBones exposed

Apart from the pits, finds so far include part of the floor of that Neolithic house with a chalk plaster floor and traces of its hearth, an antler tine that may have been part of an antler pick, a piece of pottery and some fairly large bones.

The excavation continues until Thursday (August 11.)

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