Stonehenge, the Ancient Mysterious Structure in Britain

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I'm Barbara Klein. And I'm Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Today we tell about new discoveries near Stonehenge, the famous ancient circle of stones in southern England.For thousands of years, the circle of ancient stones called Stonehenge has been one of the most mysterious places on Earth. Scientists say Stonehenge has stood in England for at least 4,000 years. Millions of people from all over the world have visited the ancient monument.

Stonehenge is the best known of a number of such ancient places in Britain. It stands on the flat, windy Salisbury Plain, near the city of Salisbury, England. Early Britons built Stonehenge from bluestone and a very hard sandstone called sarsen. Experts believe the builders of Stonehenge knew about design, engineering and sound. These ancient people did not have highly developed tools. But they built a huge monument of heavy stones.

Some of the monument's standing stones have lintel stones on top. The lintels lie flat on the standing stones. Most of the stones of Stonehenge stand in incomplete formations of circles. They differ in height, weight and surface texture. One of the largest stones weighed about 40,000 kilograms. Some stones are more than seven meters high.  Other broken stones lie on the ground.

Work on Stonehenge may have started as early as 5,000 years ago. Scientists believe it was completed over three periods lasting more than 1,000 years. Archeologists have studied Stonehenge for many years. For centuries, people have questioned the meaning of the stones

Now, archeologists have discovered remains of an ancient village that may have been home to the workers who built Stonehenge. People from the village also may have used the huge monument for religious ceremonies. The discovery of the village helps confirm an important theory about Stonehenge.

The huge monument did not stand alone. Stonehenge may have been part of a larger religious complex. The theory also proposes that people held events in the village and at Stonehenge to celebrate the change of seasons and honor the dead.

The scientific process of radiocarbon dating found that the village is about 4,600 years old. The archeologists believe the inner circle of Stonehenge was also built at about that time. The timing led them to believe that the people of the village could have built Stonehenge.

The scientists found the remains of the village about three kilometers from Stonehenge. Archeologists from the Stonehenge Riverside Project made the discovery in and around an area called Durrington Walls. Scientists believe Durrington Walls was an ancient community with hundreds of people. It included a larger version of Stonehenge made of wood and earth

Mike Parker Pearson was the main archeologist for the Stonehenge Riverside Project. Mr. Parker Pearson said placing the plan of Stonehenge over that of the wooden structure at Durrington Walls proves the great similarity of design.

The team of researchers discovered the remains of several houses. Mr. Parker Pearson says his team found remains of stone tools and bones of humans and animals in the houses. The researchers also found jewelry and broken clay containers. The large amount of animal bones and pottery suggested that the people might have been taking part in a celebration. The floors had marks that showed where fires had been built

Julian Thomas of Manchester University discovered the remains of two houses that were separated from the others. They lacked all the objects and remains found in the other houses. Mr. Thomas said religious leaders might have lived in the two houses. Or the houses might have been religious centers. Study of the area is far from finished. As many as 25 or 30 houses may be found in and near Durrington Walls over time. The Stonehenge Riverside Project will last several more yearsResearchers believe that no people ever lived at Stonehenge. So the village might have provided places to stay for the people attending celebrations at Stonehenge. Many scientists believe the early people gathered in the area to mark the change of seasons -- the winter and summer solstices.

The winter solstice takes place when the sun reaches its most southern point. It is the shortest day of the year. The summer solstice happens when the sun reaches its most northern point. It is the longest day of the year.

The researchers also found a stone road near Durrington Walls. The road is about 30 meters wide. It goes to the Avon River. A similar road goes from Stonehenge to the same river. Mr. Parker Pearson said Stonehenge and the Durrington Walls area had many similarities.

For example, Stonehenge was in line with the sunset during the winter solstice. The wooden structure at Durrington Walls was in line with the sunrise that same day. The road from Stonehenge to the Avon River was aligned with the sunrise during the summer solstice. The road from Durrington to the Avon was in line with that day's sunset

Mr. Parker Pearson said he believes the discoveries show that Durrington and Stonehenge may have represented the living and the dead. The temporary wooden circle at Durrington represented life. The permanent stone monument at Stonehenge represented death.

Mr. Parker Pearson said he believes that the ancient people had celebrations at Durrington. Then they went down the road and placed human remains or dead bodies in the Avon River. The river carried the remains downstream to Stonehenge.

The people traveled by boat to Stonehenge. There they burned and buried the remains of the dead. Scientists have found evidence of funeral fires near the Avon River not far from Stonehenge. Earlier discoveries produced burned remains at Stonehenge. And the Stonehenge Riverside Project uncovered burned remains of about 250 people.Joshua Pollard of Bristol University and his team discovered a sandstone formation that marked an ancient burial area. They found a sarsen stone almost three meters long. It was lying in a field next to the Avon River, about three kilometers east of Stonehenge. The scientists say it had been standing upright, like the stones that form the main structure of Stonehenge.

They also found partly burned remains of two people buried next to the stone. And they found stone tools, clay containers and a rare rock crystal. Mr. Pollard said the crystal possibly came from as far away as the Alps mountains

Today, the work of the Stonehenge Riverside Project is increasing knowledge about ancient life in Britain. The research team says there is evidence from old maps and ancient sources for other similar monuments near Stonehenge and connected to it. Another theory says that people from other areas in Europe traveled to Stonehenge for the observances held there.

Some day, researchers may be able to tell the whole story of the ancient village and the stone and wood monuments. But until that day, Stonehenge and its ancient partners are keeping many secretsThis program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Mario Ritter.  I'm Barbara Klein. And I'm Steve Ember. You can read scripts and download audio on our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.