Archaeological investigations 3km from Stonehenge have revealed a series of massive pits possibly representing a late Neolithic circular boundary centred on the Durrington Walls ‘superhenge’.

Map of the area showing Durrington Walls and the location of the pits
The pits were identified as a series of anomalies in LiDAR and aerial surveys of the area around Durrington Walls. [Image: Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project]

Measuring 10m across and 5m deep, the pits were identified as part of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project (SHLP), an initiative led by the University of Bradford and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection. The project has made several other important discoveries in the wider Stonehenge Land-scape over the last decade (see CA 296 and 320; the project also won the 2017 CA Research Project of the Year Award).

The SHLP survey initially revealed ten pits, forming an arc to the south of Durrington Walls, while other surveys in the area identified another group of similar features to the north of the henge. When considered together, it appears that these pits form part of one huge circuit, more than 2km across, with the henge monument at Durrington Walls at its heart. The enclosed area, covering some 3km2, also contains the smaller Neolithic monument known as Woodhenge.

In total, 20 regularly spaced pits have been identified, but it is thought that there may originally have been more than 30. Modern development in areas to the east and west of Durrington Walls has made survey there impossible, but, despite these missing sections, the uniformity and distribution of the pits found to the north and south supports their interpretation as part of one continuous ring. There also appears to be another line of smaller pits or post-holes inside the circuit, which may be part of the same feature, perhaps representing an inner post-line.

Further investigations saw mechanical coring of three of the pits, which confirmed that they were not natural features (as had initially been suggested) but that they had been deliberately created or modified. Radiocarbon results obtained from bone fragments found in one of the pits indicate that the circuit dates to the Late Neolithic period (2460-2270 cal BC), making it broadly contemporary with the construction of Durrington Walls, and evidence was also found that suggests some of the pits may have been maintained until the Middle Bronze Age.

The apparent pit circle is unique in its size and scale, with no directly comparable examples known in the UK – although monuments in circular arrangements delineating important areas are found across the Stonehenge Landscape and other parts of prehistoric Britain. The SHLP team suggests that the Durrington pits may have marked some kind of boundary around the henge, perhaps guiding people towards an important site, or warning them not to cross a symbolic line around a sacred space. It appears that the circuit might also have some connection to the causewayed enclosure at Larkhill (see CA 326), which was built 1,500 years before Durrington Walls and lies on the path of the circuit, some 800m from the superhenge.

More work is needed to fully understand this monumental feature, but the discovery demonstrates that the complex prehistoric landscape around Stonehenge still has many stories to tell. The full research has now been published in an open-access article in Internet Archaeology (see https://doi.org/10.11141/ia.55.4).


This news article appears in issue 366 of Current Archaeology. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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