Follow for more talkers

New study reveals secrets of Stonehenge

Ancient giant cattle known as aurochs once grazed the mysterious land.

Avatar photo



By Jim Leffman via SWNS

Stonehenge was built on a site that was inhabited by hunter-gatherers for thousands of years previously, a new study reveals.

The mixture of open plain, meadows and patchy forest with ancient giant cattle known as aurochs grazing is different from the forest cover previously thought.

Stonehenge, built 3000- 1500 B.C, is the most architecturally sophisticated prehistoric stone circle in the world. (SWNS)

This means that the site for the stones didn't have to be cleared and was probably already in use as a ritual area.

The study from Southampton University, in England, published in the journal PLOS ONE, sheds light on the site before the more studied Bronze Age and Neolithic times there.

Skeletal reconstruction of the ancient cattle 'auroch' that used to graze the sacred land (Wikimedia Commons)

The team used pollen, spores, sedimentary DNA, and animal remains at Blick Mead, a pre-Neolithic hunter-gatherer site on the edge of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site.

They concluded there were partially-open woodland conditions, which would have been beneficial to large grazing herbivores like aurochs, as well as hunter-gatherer communities.

They say that the Stonehenge region was not covered in a closed-canopy forest at this time, as has previously been proposed.

The evidence indicates that hunter-gatherers used this site for 4,000 years up until the time of the earliest known farmers and monument-builders in the region.

These results indicate that the people who erected Stonehenge encountered open habitats already maintained and used by large grazers and earlier human populations.

Stonehenge from above (image by SWNS)

Lead author and doctoral student Samuel Hudson said: "It is worth noting that
almost the exact location in which Stonehenge was created had been the site of likely ritual activity marked by the presence of timber posts during the earliest period of occupation by hunter-gatherers at Blick Mead.

"This all raises the possibility that the creation of Europe’s largest monumental landscape not only had spatio-ecological continuity with the late hunter-gatherer landscape, but in many ways was a development of it as the maintenance of open areas by herbivore grazing and associated hunter-gatherer activity pre-adapted this.

“The Stonehenge World Heritage Site is globally recognized for its rich Neolithic and Bronze Age monumental landscape, but little is known of its significance to Mesolithic populations.

"Environmental research at Blick Mead suggests that hunter-gatherers had already chosen part of this landscape, an alluvial clearing, as a persistent place for hunting and occupation.”

He added: "The environmental data obtained from Blick Mead supports the theory that the wider Stonehenge landscape retained some persistently open areas before the extensive clearing seen in the Late Neolithic which was of great importance to late Mesolithic hunter-gatherers.

"These were particularly favored locations of springs, wetland and floodplains
where ungulate grazing disrupted the natural succession and regrowth of woodland.

"Likely, these clearings were also locations for ritual activity which drew people in from wide areas."

The menhirs of Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England at Sunset. A UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Image by SWNS)

The team has provided new ways of combining sedimentary DNA, other ecological data, and stratigraphic data to interpret the ancient environment and further study on similar sites will provide important insights into the interactions between hunter-gatherers and early farming communities.

Stories and infographics by ‘Talker Research’ are available to download & ready to use. Stories and videos by ‘Talker News’ are managed by SWNS. To license content for editorial or commercial use and to see the full scope of SWNS content, please email [email protected] or submit an inquiry via our contact form.

Top Talkers