Seahenge identified as burial site for dead tree

Archaeologists have pieced together the secret of the prehistoric timber circle known as Seahenge: it was a funerary monument to a dead tree.

Archaeologists have pieced together the secret of the prehistoric timber circle known as Seahenge: it was a funerary monument to a dead tree.

Using radiocarbon and tree-ring dating techniques, experts at English Heritage's ancient monuments laboratory have calculated that the circle, found off the Norfolk coast last year, was constructed between April and June 2049BC and that the great stump at the centre of the circle was from a 167-year-old oak that died the year before.

Mark Brennand, of the Norfolk Archeological Unit, who directed the excavation of the circle earlier this year, said: "The timber circle was a monument to the dead oak, in which it underwent ritual treatment. It suggests that the builders may have viewed the tree as possessing a spiritual identity."

No other such timber enclosures with a central tree deposit are known. The 21st century BC marked the start of a 400-year British tradition of burying the dead in pits surrounded by small circular enclosures. The central timber in the Norfolk monument was upside down, probably symbolising death as the inversion of life.

The circle has now been removed from its inter-tidal location at Holme next the Sea and is undergoing conservation work in Flag Fen, near Peterborough, Cambridgeshire.

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