Science

New discoveries begin to reveal secrets of Stonehenge

Some like to think they were laid down by an alien civilization, while others believe they were a burial site. But archaeologists have just begun to unearth the mystery behind the standing stones of England's most famous site.

Archaeologists hope nearby excavations will shed new light on ancient monoliths

The mystery of Stonehenge attracts hordes of tourists every year — but how much do we really know about the monument? (CBC/Lightship Entertainment)

Some like to think it was laid down by an alien civilization. Others believe it's a burial site or place of worship. The theories are endless — and Stonehenge continues to fascinate hordes of tourists each and every year. 

But archaeologists have just begun to unearth the truth behind the standing stones of England's most famous site.

What do we know about Stonehenge? 

Surprisingly little. Why the stones are there and who built the monument remain a complete mystery. 

We do know that people came from far and wide to visit Stonehenge. The teeth of ancient cattle have been found in the area, and radioactive analysis shows that the bovines were brought from all over England to be slaughtered there.

Stonehenge is just a small part of a more elaborate and extensive network of monuments. Durrington Walls, the site of a Neolithic settlement, is three kilometres to the northeast of the monoliths. The area is believed to be the village where the stones were carved and where the people who celebrated at Stonehenge actually lived.

The Durrington Walls are thought to be where the people who constructed Stonehenge lived. (Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project)

Nearby discoveries shed new light

A group of scientists announced in September that they had radar imagery showing evidence of more than 90 standing stones buried around the Durrington Walls. Those claims have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, and some Stonehenge experts have questioned the accuracy of the recent radar data. 

Archaeological evidence suggests that people lived at Blick Mead nearly 2,000 years before Stonehenge was constructed. (University of Buckingham)
The settlement of Blick Mead, southeast of Stonehenge, might be key to understanding the area.

The site is home to a non-freezing freshwater spring and rocks that change colour due to a unique algae that grows only there — potentially spurring an ancient civilization to revere the site. In fact, Blick Mead may have been inhabited for nearly 2,000 years before Stonehenge was built.

Life in ancient Britain

There's archeological evidence of human presence in Britain dating back at least 41,500 years. Arriving as roaming hunter-gatherers, those early people are thought to have slowly settled into more permanent encampments and transitioned to an agrarian lifestyle. 

We, of course, ascribe some sort of belief system to the people who built Stonehenge. They did construct monuments and had them align perfectly with the solstices, something a religious-type civilization would do. But there's no true evidence of that except the stones themselves. 

Ultimately, there are still more questions than answers when it comes to Stonehenge — but new research is slowly chipping away at its spectacular secrets. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Torah Kachur

Science Columnist

Torah Kachur is the syndicated science columnist for CBC Radio One. Torah received her PhD in molecular genetics from the University of Alberta and now teaches at the University of Alberta and MacEwan University. She's the co-creator of scienceinseconds.com.

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