Previously it was believed that the mysterious stone circles were built between 2100BC and 1100BC. But new evidence from English Heritage shows that the main part of the monument, a ditch surrounded by an earth bank, was in active use from around 3000BC and the stones were constructed between 2550-1600BC.
It had also been thought that the ditch, about 8ft deep and 10ft wide, had taken centuries to build. But it now appears most of the work was done in 50 years, indicating that those responsible must have lived in a more structured and ordered society than historians realised.
Dr Geoffrey Wainwright, chief archaeologist at English Heritage, said: "It had been thought that there was a long period in the middle of the life of Stonehenge during which it was abandoned and then reactivated. We now know it was in continuous use throughout."
Using Bayesian statistics and more precise radiocarbon dating scientists were able to establish the site's chronology to within 80 year's. Older processes were only reliable to within 500 years. The method was pioneered at Queen's University, Belfast, and the Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at Oxford University.
The results of the research are on display at the South Wiltshire Museum in Salisbury, Wiltshire, as part of National Science Week. A conference on the science of Stonehenge at the Royal Society in London today will also discuss the findings.
But the new research does not offer an explanation for why Stonehenge was abandoned in 1600BC, nor why it was built in the first place.Reuse content