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Sister monument found at Stonehenge

Sister monument found at Stonehenge

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A major survey of the Stonehenge landscape began last week, and it was revealed today that that archaeologists have found another henge.

Lovers of history, fantasy and the amazing will be thrilled at the discovery.

This is a three-year project, so by 2013 there could be quite a list of new discoveries.

Is this real? Do we know as little about the famous world heritage site as this seems to imply? Or is it another hyped science story that will vanish with the dawn?

Let’s start with the new henge. Yes, it is a significant find, and my archaeological colleagues are already e-mailing each other with tempered excitement.

The first thing to ask is, is it a henge? It might well be, but without excavation we cannot know – and it all depends what you mean by “henge”.

Technically, a henge is a roughly circular space enclosed by an earthwork, distinguished by a ditch lying within a bank (rather than the other way around, which would make it a fort).

However, that definition actually excludes Stonehenge from the class, and the word has come to be used loosely to describe any circular ritual site in Britain dating from the late Neolithic or copper age (3,000-2,000BC).

A few of these had standing stones, but more common were rings of oak posts, sometimes several inside each other on a very large scale. It is this type of site that Vince Gaffney is claiming to have found.

He might well be right. The geophysics plot seems to show two arcs on a circle or oval of 10 or so large pits in total.

These pits might have held large posts. They might indeed have held megaliths (nearby “Bluehenge”, a 10m-diameter circle of 25 stone pits, was unexpectedly discovered by excavation only last year).

But they might just be very big pits: there is a henge in Dorchester, Dorset, known as Maumbury Rings, that fits that description.

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