The discovery of a wooden version of Stonehenge – a few hundred yards from the famous monument – was hailed as one of the most important archaeological finds for decades.
But now experts are at loggerheads after claims that what was thought to be a Neolithic temple was a rather more humble affair – in fact the remains of a wooden fence.
One leading expert on Stonehenge criticised the announcement of the ‘remarkable’ find in July as ‘hasty’ and warned it could become a ‘PR embarrassment’.
Mapped: The site, ringed, in a Seventies chart, which experts say shows a fence
‘Evidence’: The radar image said to reveal the post holes of a Neolithic temple
The discovery of what appeared to be a previously unknown ‘henge’, or earthwork, by a team of archaeologists conducting a multi-million-pound study of Salisbury Plain was widely reported amid great excitement.
The team said they had found evidence of a ring of 24 3ft-wide pits that could have supported timber posts up to 12ft tall, surrounded by an 80ft-wide ditch and bank.
They explained that, just like Stonehenge, the entrances to the site were aligned so that on the summer solstice the sun’s rays would enter the centre of the ring. Holes where the wooden posts once stood were identified below the ground using the latest high-resolution geophysical radar-imaging equipment.
Circle of confusion: An artist’s impression of how Woodhenge may have been 5,000 years ago
Team leader Professor Vince Gaffney of Birmingham University said the ritual monument had been built about 5,000 years ago, making it roughly the same age as its stone counterpart 980 yards away, and it could have been used for Stone Age feasts or elaborate funerals.
He said the find showed Stonehenge had not existed in ‘splendid isolation’ and he predicted further discoveries during the three-year survey of five square miles of countryside around Stonehenge.
But sceptics have now suggested that the evidence is far from conclusive, especially as it appears from images of the plot produced by the Birmingham team that the ring of post holes was not arranged in a circle but was angular and more like a hexagon.
How a Neolithic visitor may have looked
Mike Pitts, editor of the magazine British Archaeology and an acknowledged expert on Stonehenge, said he had been prompted to study maps of the area after receiving a letter from an American reader.
In the spot where Prof Gaffney had claimed to have uncovered his post holes, Mr Pitts said he and
colleagues examined a Seventies Ordnance Survey map – and saw a fence marked out.
He thought it probably was an early 20th Century construction, erected by the then Government’s Office of Works or a local farmer to protect what was thought to have been the most important site in a cluster of burial mounds that were ancient but later than Stonehenge.
Mr Pitts said: ‘Vince Gaffney says his discovery encircles a burial mound within its circumference, but unless he has some unpublished material to substantiate his discovery, I am in no doubt that this was a modern fence line.
‘If I’m right then the post holes contained modern fencing stakes and they are actually in a hexagonal shape, not a circle.’
He added: ‘I think that perhaps what has happened is that the professor’s field workers have presented him with the wrong picture and he’s shot from the hip and made an over-hasty announcement. He’s generally known for the high quality of his work and his enthusiasm which, on this occasion, may have let him down.
‘The full publication of his results and small-scale excavations of the site would clinch the matter.’
But Prof Gaffney said: ‘We have mapped numerous fences and we know what they look like. The features appear to be 3ft across and as deep as 3ft. I have never seen a fence line that required holes that are 3ft across and 3ft deep.’
He said that in the fuzzy, black-and-white radar image the post holes appeared angular but that was partly due to the poor resolution of the picture and because such monuments were not perfect circles.
He went on: ‘The poles that would have stood in them would have been more like telegraph poles. You would not use them to build a fence.’
Prof Gaffney added that no metal such as old nails had been found in the holes, which would have
‘On balance, we would still suggest this is a ritual monument of the late Neolithic period.’
I love it when the ‘experts’ use the term ‘ritual‘ – in other words they do not know!
Related artile: New Woodhenge found
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1337890/Woodhenge-Is-greatest-discoveries-archaeology–simple-farmers-fence.html#ixzz1Dj4rwwBM
Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle Website