Averbury stone circle is concealing hidden strucutre

  • Avebury stone circle, which is a World Heritage Site, was built 2,500 years ago
  • Ancient stones arranged in a square shape have been found under the site
  • Unearthed stones are arranged in a square shape surrounding a Neolithic house
  • Ancient house may have been the first building in a vast Neolithic settlement

A ‘striking and apparently unique’ square monument built nearly 3,000 years ago has been found hidden underneath Avebury, the Neolthic stone circle just miles from Stonehenge.

The series of elaborate stones, thought to have been hidden and buried hundreds of years ago, were unearthed by scientists using radar technology.

Archaeologists said the newly unearthed stones were arranged in a square shape surrounding a Neolithic house, which predates the rest of the site by at least 500 years.

They added that the uncovered ancient home, which was built sometime in the 3rd millennium BC, may have been the first building in a vast Neolithic settlement in south west England.

A mysterious square-shaped monument made from a series of standing stones was unearthed beneath Avebury. The stones appear to surround a Neolithic house (pictured is an illustration)

A mysterious square-shaped monument made from a series of standing stones was unearthed beneath Avebury. The stones appear to surround a Neolithic house (pictured is an illustration)

HOW DID SCIENTISTS FIND THE MONUMENT?

An area of 0.6 hectares (65,000ft) in the Southern Inner Circle was surveyed by the researchers.

The researchers studied the ground using ground penetrating radar (GPR), which uses an electromagnetic radar wave to search for changes in soil composition and structure.

Researchers walked across the study area, taking radar readings every 0.5 metres (1.6ft).

They were able to tell what kinds of structures lay beneath the soil by studying the amount of soil resistance detected by the GPR.

Very high resistance readings indicated the location of buried stones, moderate resistance marked deeply buried stones and low resistance indicated destruction pits.

Arranging the results of the GPR survey on an illustrative map allowed the researchers to discover the stones were arranged intentionally in the shape of a square.

The stone circle at Avebury, which is a World Heritage Site, was built more than 2,500 years ago.

It contains three stone circles, including the largest stone circle Europe, which is 330m across and once comprised around 100 huge standing stones.

A research team led by the University of Leicester and University of Southampton used ground-penetrating radar to investigate the stone circle.

Dr Mark Gillings, director of the school of archaeology at the University of Leicester, told MailOnline: ‘We have identified the remains of an earlier Neolithic house and a square setting of standing stones that once surrounded it.

‘We found also found curious straight lines of standing stones radiating like spokes from within this square.

‘And a wholly new, smaller circle nestled in between the Southern Inner Circle and the newly identified Square.

‘Together, these reveal a striking and apparently unique square megalithic monument within the Avebury circles that has the potential to be one of the very earliest structures on this remarkable site.’

He added the newly discovered structures, which were found buried just two metres deep (6.6ft), may predate Avebury’s stone ring by several hundred years.

An area of 0.6 hectares (65,000ft) in the Southern Inner Circle was surveyed by the researchers.

The researchers studied the ground using ground penetrating radar (GPR), which uses an electromagnetic radar wave to search for changes in soil composition and structure.

The reconstructed ground plan of the Southern Inner Circle showing positions of the newly discovered standing stones in blue

The reconstructed ground plan of the Southern Inner Circle showing positions of the newly discovered standing stones in blue

Researchers walked across the study area, taking radar readings every 0.5 metres (1.6ft).

They were able to tell what kinds of structures lay beneath the soil by studying the amount of soil resistance detected by the GPR.

Very high resistance readings indicated the location of buried stones, moderate resistance marked deeply buried stones and low resistance indicated destruction pits.

Arranging the results of the GPR survey on a map allowed the researchers to discover the stones were arranged intentionally in the shape of a square.

The stone circle at Avebury (pictured), which is a World Heritage Site, was built more than 2,500 years ago

The stone circle at Avebury (pictured), which is a World Heritage Site, was built more than 2,500 years ago

‘These are two techniques that are ideal for detecting the kinds of signatures (bulky stones; spreads of packing stones and compression caused by the weight of stones) left by former standing stones,’ Dr Gillings added.

Avebury has been subject of considerable archaeological interest since the 17th century.

The survey took place inside the Southern Inner Circle, contained within the bank and ditch and colossal Outer Stone Circle of the Avebury henge.

The site was first excavated by archaeologist Alexander Keiller in 1931.

Mr Keiller found small standing stones lying at a ‘curious’ angle when he excavated the site.

Avebury, the Neolthic stone circle site, is located close to Stonehenge in the south west of England 

Avebury, the Neolthic stone circle site, is located close to Stonehenge in the south west of England

WHY WAS IT BUILT?

Archaeologists believe the structure was made to commemorate the building of a Neolithic house, which was first discovered on the site on the 1930s.

They added the house may have been the first building of a vast Neolithic settlement that once resided in south west England.

The researchers said more analysis of the monument may even help us understand why Neolithic settlers decided to build Avebury henge more than 3,000 years ago.

The research team is currently compiling their research into a paper for academic publishing.

But the outbreak of war left this feature uninvestigated for more than 80 years.

Dr Joshua Pollard from the University of Southampton said: ‘Our careful programme of geophysical survey has finally completed the work begun by Keiller.

‘It has shown the line of stones he identified was one side of a square of megaliths about 30m across.

‘Also visible are short lines of former standing stones radiating from this square and connecting with the Southern Inner Circle.

‘Megalithic circles are well known from the time when Avebury was built during the late Neolithic (3rd millennium BC), but square megalithic settings of this scale and complexity are unheard of.’

Dr Gillings added that the stones uncovered in the study may have been dug up and reburied a number of times throughout British history.

He said: ‘People were pushing over and burying stones from the 14th century AD until the 17th AD with one buried as recently as the 1920s.

‘As to why, this is probably a complex blend of practical, political and religious reasons.’

The location of the survey grid in the southern inner circle of Avebury. The 1939 excavation trenches are shown in pink alongside the new survey grid. The black dots represent the newly discovered standing stone positions

The location of the survey grid in the southern inner circle of Avebury. The 1939 excavation trenches are shown in pink alongside the new survey grid. The black dots represent the newly discovered standing stone positions

Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust archaeologist at Avebury, said: ‘This discovery has been almost 80 in the making but it’s been well worth waiting for.

‘The completion of the work first started by Keiller in the 1930s has revealed an entirely new type of monument at the heart of the world’s largest prehistoric stone circle, using techniques he never dreamt of.

‘And goes to show how much more is still to be revealed at Avebury if we ask the right questions.’

Archaeologists said the newly unearthed stones were arranged in a square shape surrounding a Neolithic house, which predates the rest of the site by at least 500 years.

The reconstructed ground plan of the Southern Inner Circle combining the results of the current survey with the 1939 excavation

The reconstructed ground plan of the Southern Inner Circle combining the results of the current survey with the 1939 excavation

They added that the uncovered ancient home, which was built sometime in the 3rd millennium BC, may have been the first building in a vast Neolithic settlement in south west England.

‘It appears that the square setting of standing stones respected and monumentalised the alignment and form of an earlier house,’ he said.

‘It may be that what we are seeing is a series of increasingly elaborate monumental structures emanating out (like ripples in a pond) from this foundational house structure.

‘Perhaps the house was linked conceptually to a founding lineage or set of ancestors.

‘What is intriguing is that the origin of this huge monument complex might have been a small rectangular house.’

The research team is currently compiling their research into a paper for academic publishing.