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20 November 2016
5,600-year-old religious centre discovered near Stonehenge

The first major early Neolithic monument to be discovered in the area for more than a century, evidence of a 200 metre diameter religious and ceremonial complex built about 5,650 years ago has been uncovered about two and a half kilometres north-east of Stonehenge. The site appears to have consisted of two concentric circles comprising around 950 metres of segmented ditches and earthen banks.
     Archaeologists have excavated around 100 metres of the outer ditch. Finds include fragments of smashed bowls, cattle bones, and fragments of human skulls perhaps re-deposited from the nearby tombs. The cattle bones, bowl fragments, and human material had been carefully selected - cattle were represented only by their leg bones, humans only by skull fragments, and smashed bowls only by their sometimes decorated rims and upper portions. The excavations also unearthed a pottery urn which had been ritually buried in the enclosure ditch almost 1,900 years after the monument was constructed.
     The site's presence is consistent with the distribution of other such monuments across the country - more than a third of causewayed enclosures occur in pairs or clusters of three or occasionally four - and it seems likely that the remains of other important monuments survive in the area. Just three months ago the site of a circle of giant timber posts was revealed 800 metres to the south-east.
     Apart from more than 20 giant tombs, the only previously known early Neolithic monument in the area was the large causewayed enclosure called Robin Hood's Ball, four kilometres north-west of Stonehenge.
     The causewayed enclosures are the third oldest type of monument in the Stonehenge landscape - only the very early Neolithic long barrows and a group of pre-Neolithic wooden posts are older. The main phase of Stonehenge was constructed around 1,150 years after the causewayed enclosures.
     Matt Leivers, a leading Wessex Archaeology prehistorian, says: "The newly found site is one of the most exciting discoveries in the Stonehenge landscape that archaeologists have ever made."

Edited from The Independent (18 November 2016)

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