A comparative analysis of British and French prehistoric monuments has revealed that Stonehenge has little in common with other British Neolithic structures, but shares many features with monuments on the other side of the Channel. Stonehenge's horseshoe design is very rare in Britain, but common in western France - especially Brittany.
Dr Aubrey Burl, one of Britain's leading prehistorians, said last night: "The array of non-British features in it suggest that Stonehenge was probably the handiwork of a powerful and intrusive aristocracy from somewhere in western France, perhaps Brittany."
The Stonehenge horseshoe's astronomical alignment - linking it with the mid-winter sunset - is not typical of British pre- historic sites, but is again common in Brittany.
The geometry and astronomical alignments of the rectangle formed by Stonehenge's so-called Station Stones have no equivalents in Britain or Ireland but do have parallels in north-west France. Stonehenge's figurative art is also unique in Britain, but common in Brittany.
Until two years ago, archae- ologists thought the main part of Stonehenge was built around 2,000 BC. New dating tests have now revealed, however, that the monument was constructed around 600 years earlier.
This means that Stonehenge is not an early Bronze Age structure of the so-called Wessex Culture which flourished from about 2100 BC to1600 BC, but was instead built by people in the previous period, the Neolithic, when the stone circles of Avebury, and four massive earthwork ritual enclosures in Wiltshire and Dorset were constructed at virtually the same time - around 2600 BC.
Significantly, Avebury also once appeared to have had a central horseshoe layout - and may therefore also have shared in the French connection.
It may well be that much of Hampshire, Wiltshire and Dorset were taken over by conquerors from Western France sometime between 2800 and 2600 BC and that the great prehistoric temple of Stonehenge was as much a symbol of the new order and of conquest as it was of religious devotion.