The team which discovered the site of a second stone circle, 500 years older than the nearby Stonehenge has won a prestigious archaeology award.
The sensational discovery of a 5000 year-old “Blue Stonehenge” was made by a team led by archaeologists from Manchester, Sheffield and Bristol Universities on the West bank of the River Avon last year.
The Stonehenge Riverside Project – as they are known – won the Research Project of the Year award at the Current Archaeology awards held at the British Museum.
The Stonehenge Riverside Project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Royal Archaeological Institute.
The award was given following an online vote by readers of Britain’s biggest archaeology magazine.
The new circle was 10m in diameter and was surrounded by a henge – a ditch with an external bank.
However, the stones were at some point removed, leaving behind nine uncovered holes. The team believe they were probably part of a circle of 25 standing stones.
The outer henge around the stones was built around 2,400 BC, but distinctive chisel-shaped arrowheads found in the stone circle indicate that the stones were put up as much as 500 years earlier.
When the newly discovered circle’s stones were removed by Neolithic tribes, they may, according to the team, have been dragged to Stonehenge, to be incorporated within its major rebuilding around 2500 BC.
Archaeologists know that after this date, Stonehenge consisted of about 80 Welsh stones and 83 local, sarsen stones. Some of the bluestones that once stood at the riverside probably now stand within the centre of Stonehenge.
Professor Julian Thomas, from The University of Manchester and a co-director of the Stonehenge Riverside Project, said: “We are delighted to win this award – and it’s a tribute to the team who have done such a great job.
“We are still coming to terms with this truly sensational discovery: it’s amazing the circle of bluestones were dragged from the Welsh Preseli mountains, 150 miles away around 5,000 years ago.
“It adds weight to the theory that the River Avon linked a ‘domain of the living’ – marked by timber circles and houses upstream at the Neolithic village of ‘Durrington Walls’ – with a ‘domain of the dead’ marked by Stonehenge and this new stone circle.
“The Stonehenge Riverside Project also discovered a Late Neolithic settlement outside the enormous henge at Durrington Walls, upriver from Stonehenge, and a series of contemporary timber buildings and other structures in and around Durrington which may have been ceremonial in character.”
Notes for editors
The Stonehenge Riverside Project is run by a consortium of university teams. It is directed by Prof. Mike Parker Pearson of Sheffield University, with co-directors Dr Josh Pollard (Bristol University), Prof. Julian Thomas (The University of Manchester), Dr Kate Welham (Bournemouth University) and Dr Colin Richards (The University of Manchester). The 2009 excavation was funded by the National Geographic Society, Google, the Society of Antiquaries of London, and the Society of Northern Antiquaries.
Most of the circle remains preserved for future research and the 2009 excavation has been filled back in.