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17 February 2008
Prehistoric site unearthed under a British church

Work on a church in North East England has revealed that the site may have been used for ritual and worship for thousands of years. Major refurbishment work on the Grade I-listed St Michael and All Angels church in Houghton-le-Spring, Tyne and Wear, began last month. The church, dating back to Norman times, is the oldest building in the town. But investigation by archaeologists has revealed whinstone boulders under the church, which are thought to have been part of an early prehistoric burial cairn or ritual site. A line of similar boulders has been found under the churchyard wall.
     Archaeologist Peter Ryder, of Riding Mill in Northumberland, said: "It looks like a prehistoric site. We can't think of any other reason why these very large boulders should be inside the church." Under the central tower of the church, which was restored in about 1350, the work has uncovered huge Roman stones thought to have come from a Roman temple. "These are massive and spectacular foundations for the tower, using huge stones which must have come from a major Roman building," said Peter.
     It is believed it was often the practice that important pagan ritual or worship sites were taken over by subsequent religions. "We have found far more than we ever expected when the work began," said Peter, who is working alongside Newcastle University's Archaeological Practice. The Rev Derek Newton, associate priest at the church, said the finds would be part of a Houghton heritage centre which will be created in the church as part of the 1m refurbishment project.
"Although the finds have delayed the work slightly, this has been a great adventure and everybody has enjoyed what has been revealed," he said.
     To help raise funds for the heritage centre, people are being invited to make a donation as they contribute items, photographs or writings to a time capsule which will be sealed beneath the new floor. Contact Mr Newton on (0191) 584-9169.

Source: Journal Live (14 February 2008)

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