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Image Gallery: Stonehenge Hunting Grounds

Mysterious enigma

Stonehenge sunset with sun halo

(Image credit: MPanchenko, Shutterstock)

New research has unearthed a site just a mile from Stonehenge that was occupied by humans thousands of years earlier than thought

Stone monument

No one knows why ancient people built Stonehenge.

(Image credit: Pete Strasser | nasa.gov)

Stonehenge was built around 4,600 years ago, but a few pine beams were erected between 8,000 and 6,500 B.C. Until now, no one knew why those beams were erected when there was no other evidence of occupation so early.

Nearby site

Map of Amesbury and Stonehenge

(Image credit: David Jacques, Current Archaeology Issue 271)

David Jacques, a researcher at the Open University, was looking at archival photographs of the area when he noticed a site in nearby Amesbury that had a natural spring. Because wild animals often congregate near springs, he wondered whether ancient man may have as well.

Excavations

An animal bone with a point still in it

(Image credit: David Jacques, Current Archaeology Issue 271)

The team began excavating and unearthed evidence of burning, thousands of bone tools and hundreds of bone fragments, some dating to 7,500 B.C., nearly 5,000 years before the large megaliths were first raised at Stonehenge.

Wild aurochs

An auroch, an extinct wild cow

(Image credit: Pearson Scott Foresman | Wikimedia Foundation)

More than 60 percent of the bone fragments were from aurochs, a type of extinct wild cow. That suggests the spring was on a natural migration route for the animals. The researchers think the auroch migration route became a sacred hunting ground.

Stone tools

A flint tool found in Amesbury, near Stonehenge

(Image credit: David Jacques, Current Archaeology Issue 271)

The tools were made from materials and styles found throughout England. That suggested that the hunting grounds drew people from other areas to feast. The new discovery suggests that Stonehenge got its first sacred associations as a hunting ground, right around the time that ancient people erected pine beams at Stonehenge. Ancient people may have chosen to raise the massive megaliths at Stonehenge - the area had been sacred for thousands of years.