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Tuesday, August 31, 1999 Published at 17:35 GMT 18:35 UK


Woodhenge discovered near Stonehenge

The down-to-earth evidence for a majestic former "woodhenge"

By Jane O'Brien, BBC West of England correspondent

British archaeologists have uncovered evidence of what they believe to be a huge wooden cousin of Stonehenge, the famous stone circle in Wiltshire, UK.

The site has revealed human remains, suggesting a link with burials
The discovery of deep holes thought to have supported large oak poles came near another stone circle at Avebury, just 20 miles from Stonehenge.

Archaeologist Michael Pitts told the BBC: "There are big implications for Stonehenge. If there were lots of timber structures like, or even bigger than, Stonehenge around at the same time, then Stonehenge is no longer something weird or unique. It becomes part of the religious scenery of the time."

The team uncovered the foundations of the timber structure at Avebury's Sanctuary. There were two concentric stone circles here which were destroyed in the 18th Century.

In the centre of where these would have been, giant post holes have been found. They are up to six feet deep and could have supported wooden pillars up to 17ft high. Six to eight rings appear to have existed.

One theory is that they were supports for a ritual building but they are much thicker and closer together than would have been needed to hold up a roof. The archaeologists believe they are more likely to have formed a free-standing "woodhenge".

They think there may have been nearly 40 similar wooden structures in the ancient kingdom of Wessex - some of them much bigger.

[ image: The Avebury stone circle, near the Sanctuary, is 241 metres in diameter]
The Avebury stone circle, near the Sanctuary, is 241 metres in diameter

The Avebury Sanctuary stone circle was last excavated in 1930.

The National Trust, which manages the site, says the new information could be used to create a reconstruction which would help people understand what Avebury looked like 4,500 years ago.

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