Archaeologists at the University of Sheffield have unearthed a huge settlement at Durrington Walls, near Stonehenge, confirming that the Stonehenge monument was part of a larger ritual centre.
The excavations reveal an enormous ancient settlement that once housed hundreds of people. Archaeologists believe the houses were constructed and occupied by the builders of nearby Stonehenge, the legendary monument on Salisbury Plain.
The houses have been radiocarbon dated to 2600-2500 B.C., the same period Stonehenge was built - one of the facts that leads the archaeologists to conclude that the people who lived in the Durrington Walls houses were responsible for constructing Stonehenge. The houses form the largest Neolithic or new stone age village ever found in Britain.
Eight of the houses' remains were excavated, and six of the floors were found well-preserved. Each house once measured about 5 metres square and had a clay floor and central hearth. The team found 4,600-year-old debris strewn across floors, postholes and slots, which once anchored wooden furniture that had disintegrated long ago.
The rest of the houses are clustered on both sides of an imposing stone-surfaced avenue some 30 metres wide and 170 metres long. The avenue connects remains of a colossal timber circle with the River Avon. Existence of the avenue, which mirrors one at nearby Stonehenge, indicates people once moved between the two monuments via the river. Discovery of the avenue has helped the team piece together the purpose of the entire Stonehenge complex.
Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1986.