A vast, mysterious complex dating back more than 5,600 years has been unearthed just 1.5 miles from Stonehenge, British archaeologists have announced.
The finding in Wiltshire reinforces the theory that Stonehenge was a sacred monument and suggests the entire region was ritually active hundreds of years before the enigmatic stone circle was erected.
Found during excavations ahead of the construction of a new Army Service family accommodation, the 650-foot-diameter complex is known as a "causewayed enclosure." It consists of more than 3,100 feet of segmented ditches arranged in two concentric circles.
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According to archaeologists at Wessex Archaeology, the remains date back to 3,650 B.C. - around 700 years before Stonehenge was known to be erected.
"These discoveries are changing the way we think about prehistoric Wiltshire and about the Stonehenge landscape in particular," Martin Brown, archaeologist for consultancy company WYG, which is leading the Larkhill housing development project, said in a statement.
"Causewayed enclosures," so-called because their ditches are crossed by multiple causeways, are some of the most puzzling prehistoric monuments.
About 70 of such enclosures are known across England. The newly found complex is the second that has been uncovered in the Stonehenge area.
It is believed these "causewayed enclosures" were used as temporary settlements, ceremonial gathering places, ritual activity and disposal of the dead.
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At Larkhill, the ditches contained deliberately smashed pottery - evidence of ritualistic activities - dumps of worked flint and even a large stone hand mill used to ground grain into flour.
Human skull fragments also found at the site suggest ritual burials were performed in the sacred space.
"The Neolithic people whose monuments we are exploring shaped the world we inhabit," Brown said.
"They were the first farmers and the first people who settled down in this landscape, setting us on the path to the modern world," he added.
So far the archaeologists have excavated about 328 feet of the outer ditch. It's not yet known how much of the complex has survived.
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