Wooden Henge. Image © University of Birmingham.
CNN reported July 22 that Professor Vince Gaffney and Dr. Henry Chapman of the University of Birmingham and a team of British and Austrian archaeologists from the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute in Vienna have discovered the imprint of a former Wooden Henge 900 metres from Stonehenge.
The structure dates "from the late Neolithic period" and comprises "a circular ditch surrounding a ring of 24 internal pits up to one meter in diameter and designed to allow posts to support a free-standing, timber structure up to three meters high." The Wooden Henge has north-east and south-west entrances, with a ring of pits surrounding the circle, a higher mound ringing the whole construction, and a burial mound (barrow) in the centre. There are reports here and here. National Geographic comments, "The circle's estimated date of 2,500 to 2,200 B.C. suggests 'it was operating when Stonehenge was in its final and most dramatic form.'" Go here for an interactive Stonehenge timeline: Stonehenge construction started around 3,000 BCE.
Artist's impression of Wooden Henge. Image © University of Birmingham.
This is the first such monument that has been found in the past fifty years. According to the BBC, "Professor Gaffney said he was 'certain' they would make further discoveries as 90% of the landscape around the giant stones was terra incognita - an unexplored region." My guess is that Stonehenge was surrounded by a circle of Wooden Henges. It raises another question I've often wondered about - why a circle?
Perhaps each age of human development has been associated in our primary constructive imagination with a shape, from the Prehistoric circles of Stonehenge, to the Bronze Age and Classical triangles of the Egyptian Pyramids and Greek mathematics, which slowly gave way through the medieval and modern periods to the Bauhaus rectangle of our own times. I think we're working our way back to the circle again, or maybe ovals.
Location of Wooden Henge. © BBC/Microsoft.
I remember seeing a special on Prehistoric standing stones, in which one archaeologist speculated on the relationship between stone circles and wooden ones. He claimed that perhaps the wooden circles dealt with the living, while stone circles stood as monuments to dead and their needs. I've seen other reports that Stonehenge was an astronomical tool, and acted like a giant clock and signified the turning of the seasons, serving as a host location for giant feasts. There's further speculation that Stonehenge was surrounded by giant hedges, hiding secret rituals that took place there.
Stonehenge. Photograph © Jason Hawkes, Corbis.
My last post dealt with the difficulty we have in even conceiving of Prehistoric realities. The Birmingham team used the latest imaging technology to recreate a three-dimensional image of the buried traces of the former monument. Professor Gaffney is Chair in Landscape Archaeology and Geomatics and Director of the Visual and Spatial Technology Centre. There is a video on youtube with Dr. Chapman discussing the visual technology which enabled the Birmingham researchers to reconstruct a projection of the Wooden Henge, and shows how they fill in the missing gaps in Prehistoric evidence. Chapman: "We can almost excavate the site virtually by peeling off five centimeters at a time to see what is there."
Dr. Henry Chapman, University of Birmingham.