Excavation near Stonehenge found evidence of a settlement dating back to 7,500 BC, revealing the site was occupied some 5,000 years earlier than previously thought.
Working at Vespasian's Camp in Amesbury, Wiltshire, less than a mile from the megalithic stones, a team led by archaeologist David Jacques of the Open University unearthed material which contradicted the general belief that no people settled there until as late as 2,500 BC.
Indeed, carbon dating of the material revealed the existence of a semi-permanent settlement which was occupied from 7,500 to 4,700 BC. The dating showed that people were present during every millennium in between.
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The team has "found the community who put the first monument up at Stonehenge," archaeologist Josh Pollard from Southampton University and the Stonehenge Riverside Project, told the BBC.
The researchers believe that the people who settled at Vespasian's Camp also built the first monument at Stonehenge - large wooden posts erected between the 9th and 7th millennia BC.
The findings, to be broadcast in a documentary on BBC One, shows that Stonehenge wasn't just abandoned by Mesolithic humans and occupied by Neolithic people thousands of years later. On the contrary, it represents a place where one culture mingled with the other.
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Jacques started to survey the area after seeing aerial photographs of the site in 1999 as a student.
He noticed it contained a natural spring, which would have attracted animals.
"What we found was the nearest secure watering hole for animals and people, a type of all year round fresh water source," Jacques told the BBC.
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"My thinking was where you find wild animals, you tend to find people, certainly hunter gatherer groups coming afterwards," he added.
According to Peter Rowley-Conwy, professor of archaeology at Durham University, the finding is significant.
"The site has the potential to become one of the most important Mesolithic sites in northwestern Europe," Rowley-Conwy said.
Image: Stonehenge. Credit: Wieschendahl/Wikimedia Commons