British researchers have shed new light on shadows cast by the mysterious Stonehenge monuments.
After studying cremated human remains found near the site, they believe it may have originally been a burial site for elite families.
Their theory is based on several findings including a mace head (an object of high status at the time) and a small bowl burned on one side, which may have been incense.
The researchers say that suggests that important political or religious figures may have been buried at the original Stonehenge.
In all, archeologists studied the cremated bones of 63 people who they believe were buried around 3000 BC.
"These were men, women, children, so presumably family groups," said University College London professor Mike Parker Pearson, who led the team.
As he told the Associated Press, "We'd thought that maybe it was a place where a dynasty of kings was buried, but this seemed to be much more of a community, a different kind of power structure."
According to Parker Pearson, the earliest burials at the site are much older than the monument itself in its current form.
The archeological team included academics from more than a dozen British universities.
As part of their research, they also came up with a theory about the second Stonehenge - the monument that stands in England to this day.
They analyzed a settlement from the Neolithic period or New Stone Age (which started around 10,000 BC).
Based on that, the researchers believe thousands of people travelled from as far away as Scotland to Stonehenge - bringing their families and cattle for feasts and celebrations.
The archeologists studied pig and cow teeth found near a "builders' camp".
Parker Pearson says their analysis suggests the animals were born in the spring, and were slaughtered around nine to 15 months later.
That means "they were likely eaten in feasts during the midwinter and midsummer", Parker Pearson said.
"We don't think (the builders) were living there all the time. We could tell that by when they were killing the pigs - they were there for the solstices."
In other words, they showed up seasonally to build Stonehenge - probably for short periods, over the course of ten years or so.
Archeologists have debated for years about the purpose of the stones. Some are as big as double-decker buses, with upright stones standing more than 20 feet and weighing up to 45 tonnes.
One of the most popular theories is that it was a place for Druid worship, which was famously depicted in This is Spinal Tap.
The band dressed as high priests while a comically undersized Stonehenge monument was brought down from the rafters.
Other theories suggest it was a place of healing built by the earliest people of Britain or a kind of astronomical observatory
Archeologist Evan Hadingham is NOVA's senior science editor, and has written two books on Stonehenge.
He says ""I don't think anybody believes anymore that Stonehenge was some kind of fancy calculating device, kind of a Neolithic iPod... but it is fairly well accepted that a less precise level of watching the sun and the moon almost certainly was done [there]."
As for the latest theory, Professor Pearson puts it this way: "I have now come to believe that there are hundreds, maybe many times that, of burials at Stonehenge... The whole history of the monument is inseparably linked to death and burial."
via Time Newsfeed