New research has revealed that the landscape around Stonehenge has been continuously occupied for around 10,000 years.
The findings – a series of radio carbon dates from a site 1.5 miles east of the famous prehistoric monument – strengthens the likelihood that the area was of considerable political significance for literally thousands of years before Stonehenge and its neighbouring monuments were built.
The earliest definitive evidence of human activity in the area – dating from around 8000 BC – is from a site 100 metres north of Stonehenge. But now a new series of 11 radio carbon dates reveal that an area 1.5 miles east of the site of Stonehenge was inhabited between 7600 and 4700 BC, during the pre-agricultural ‘Mesolithic’ period. Still standing ancient tombs and other monuments in the Stonehenge landscape date from the subsequent Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Romano-British, Anglo-Saxon and later medieval periods – and the nearby small town of Amesbury has existed since at least the 9 century AD.
The newly dated Mesolithic site, 1.5 miles east of Stonehenge, was located around a spring. So far archaeologists – led by David Jacques of the University of Buckingham – have found more than 4000 stone tools and over 1000 bones from animals slaughtered for food there. Evidence has also been discovered suggesting that large scale feasting around very substantial camp fires was taking place at the site.
“The area was clearly a hub point for people to come to from many miles away and in many ways was a forerunner for what later went on in Stonehenge itself,” said Mr. Jacques.
Some evidence suggests that the site may have had ritual significance. It is also likely that the Mesolithic site (originally a series of large timber posts) just north of Stonehenge also had a religious role. Combined, both these Mesolithic sites may help to explain why the area became ritually and politically so important and therefore why Stonehenge itself was ultimately built there.