Archaeology news: ‘Mega henge’ in Dorset was likely ‘last hurrah’ of stone-age builders

An eruption in construction taking place at the tail-end of the UK’s Neolithic period may well have been a tacit acknowledgement of an end of an era, archaeologists have announced. Research on a prehistoric monument in Dorset suggests the building work was a “last hurrah” by stone-age people sensing the arrival of fundamental change.

A new archaeological study of a mega henge in Dorset’s Mount Pleasant found the site was not constructed over centuries, but was instead erected in as little as 35 years.

You could look at it as the last hurrah of the stone age

Susan Greaney of Cardiff University’s

This led Cardiff University archaeologists to suggest a theory the fast-paced building programme was almost ready at approximately 2,500 BC.

This was immediately prior to a wave of migrants arriving from modern-day mainland Europe, bringing with them new religions, goods and culture.

Susan Greaney of Cardiff University’s school of history, archaeology and religion, said: “The picture emerging is an explosion in building activity with large and labour-intensive monuments being constructed across southern England, and perhaps further afield.

“The building of Mount Pleasant would have involved a huge number of people – digging out the enormous ditches with simple tools like antler picks.

“This was right at the end of the stone age, just before people came from the continent with metal goods, new types of pottery, new styles of burial and so on.

“You could look at it as the last hurrah of the stone age.

“They could see the changes coming and decide to resist them – they may have been thinking: ‘We don’t need these changes. We’ll build bigger and better monuments to our gods. We’ll knuckle down and stick with what we know’.”

Mount Pleasant prominently featured a henge – a circular enclosure surrounded by a bank and ditch – as well as an imposing fence constructed from the trunks of large trees.

The henge is huge, even in comparison to current constructions.

Archaeologists estimate the henge was likely the size of nine football pitches.

Its contemporaries from the same period include Durrington Walls’ super-henge and Wiltshire’s Neolithic Avebury stone circle.

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And the world-famous Stonehenge stone circle was also erected at a similar time.

These henges are now known to be incredibly important ceremonial sites where people congregated to feast and perform proto-religious rituals.

Mount Pleasant, the site of which is now ploughed fields, was excavated in the early 1970s by archaeologists.

Antler picks, pieces of charcoal and human bones were among the items discovered at the mega-henge.

Ms Greaney, however, cautioned the “last hurrah” hypothesis is only one theory.

She said: “It may also be that the effort of building these monuments led to a rebellion or a collapse in belief that created a vacuum that allowed people to come in from the continent.”

Peter Marshall, of Historic England, said: “This research shows the importance of archaeological collections stored in museums.

“Even though the site was excavated 50 years ago, it has been possible to use utilise new scientific techniques to examine the material held in Dorchester.

“As archaeological practices evolve, the value of these museum collections and the importance of their long-term preservation cannot be underestimated.”

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