England may have its next big tourist attraction. Archaeologists have discovered a massive monument of stones buried in the ground just three kilometers (1.8 miles) from the famous Stonehenge site. Researchers believe that it’s older than Stonehenge and was used as a “ritual arena” of some sort.
“We don’t think there’s anything quite like this anywhere else in the world,” said Vince Gaffney, lead researcher, of the University of Bradford. “This is completely new and the scale is extraordinary.”
Using cutting-edge, multi-sensor radar technology, archaeologists found that there were once about 90 stones—out of which 30 survived intact—buried beneath Durrington Walls, a vast Neolithic settlement close to Stonehenge.
The stones, as high as 15-feet-tall and believed to have been placed about 4,500 years ago, form an enormous theater around the Durrington Walls embankment, which itself aligns perfectly with the sunrise on the winter solstice. The researchers believe that the stones were deliberately toppled over in an effort to preserve them for history.
The fact that the stones were overturned and then buried could be evidence of a religious revolution, out of which the more renowned Stonehenge site grew. Unfortunately, the people who built Stonehenge left no record, written or otherwise, of their purpose—so we’re not sure exactly what it was for. But we do know that much of the site is aligned to the sunset on the winter solstice and the sunrise on the summer solstice. It could have been a temple for a sun cult, or a burial ground for “Stone Age elite,” or ancient healing grounds.
But now efforts to understand these Neolithic societies will likely shift toward studying the new “Superhenge” site. Stonehenge and “Superhenge” are far from the only Henge monuments—several others are interspersed throughout Britain, and many remain a mystery.