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New discoveries - Stonehenge

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English Heritage says it has discovered a "missing piece in the jigsaw" in our understanding of Stonehenge, England's greatest prehistoric site.

Excavations along the ancient processional route to the monument, [the Avenue], have confirmed the theory that it was built along an ice age landform. . .on the solstice axis, according to Professor Mike Parker Pearson, a leading expert on Stonehenge.

The Avenue was an earthwork route that extended 1.5 miles from the north-eastern entrance [of] Wiltshire's standing stones to the River Avon at West Amesbury. Following the closure of the A344 road, which cut across the route, archaeologists have been able to excavate there for the first time.

Just below the tarmac, [and the ancient Avenue], they have found naturally occurring fissures that once lay between ridges. . . The ridges were created by Ice Age meltwater that. . .point directly at the mid-winter sunset in one direction and the mid-summer sunrise in the other.

Parker Pearson said: "It's hugely significant because it tells us a lot about why Stonehenge was located where it is and why they [prehistoric people] were so interested in the solstices. . ."This natural landform. . .[is] on the solstice axis, which brings heaven and earth into one. So the reason that Stonehenge is all about the solstices, we think, is because they actually saw this in the land."

Dr Heather Sebire, English Heritage's Stonehenge curator, "likens the Avenue to The Mall leading to Buckingham Palace". Due to a dry summer and no watering, archaeologists made another discovery -

Archaeologists have also identified three holes where missing stones would have stood on the outer sarsen circle - evidence, it is believed, that the circle was indeed once complete. Surprisingly, even the most sophisticated surveys failed to spot them. Two members of staff noticed dry areas of grass, or parchmarks.

Wonderful what's right under our noses. . .but really, all of us ordinary folk always thought Stonehenge was a circle, with some stones missing.

We've edited some of Pearson's quotes because they seemed a bit reductionist. The people who built and rebuilt Stonehenge over the course of many years had many reasons for building the circle and spending time there. One reason doesn't necessarily exclude another. We mention some of those reasons for the mystery of Stonehenge in our book.

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