An ancient house of the dead has been unearthed near Stonehenge.
The Neolithic burial chamber, which likely dates to approximately 5,600 to 5,700 years ago, would have been an earthen structure that housed the skeletons of some of the earliest inhabitants of Britain. The burial structure, known as a long barrow, was discovered in the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England, which is dotted with ancient ruins from this period.
“It’s a very rare type of monument, and a monument type we do not get to excavate very often,” said Jim Leary, director of the Archaeology Field School at the University of Reading in England, who is leading the excavations. “This is the first one in 50 years that’s been excavated in Wiltshire in its entirety.”
The burial chamber was discovered in what looked like an ordinary wheat field, thanks to aerial footage that revealed the outline of some structure lying hidden below. The excavations have just begun, so the scientists have yet to send their findings to peer-reviewed journals; the archaeologists don’t yet know whether they will uncover skeletons or other artifacts in the long barrow, Leary said. [Aerial Photos Reveal Mysterious Stone Structures]
The Salisbury Plain in England is home to a stunning array of ancient monuments, from Stonehenge, to the mysterious fire monument near Avebury Circle, to the chalk mound known as Silbury Hill. It’s not clear why so many of these ancient monuments have been found in the region, though one likely reason is that it has been very sparsely occupied in recent human history, meaning these monuments have not been plowed over through the millennia by farmers, Leary said. However, the river valleys of the Avon and Kennet rivers (which flow through Wiltshire) do seem to have had some special sacred significance for ancient people, which may mean more monumental architecture was constructed there, he said.