July 22, 2010 / 9:22 AM / 7 years ago

Archaeologists find new structure at Stonehenge

<p>People attend the annual summer solstice at the Stonehenge monument on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, southern England June 21, 2010. REUTERS/Kieran Doherty</p>

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Archaeologists have discovered a wooden version of British prehistoric monument Stonehenge at the same site, the project’s leader told Reuters on Thursday.

Using radar, the archaeologists found a circular ditch less than one kilometer away from the iconic stone circle, which is thought to date back to the Neolithic period 2,000 to 4,000 years ago.

“This finding is remarkable,” said project leader Vince Gaffney, professor of archaeology at the University of Birmingham.

“It will completely change the way we think about the landscape around Stonehenge.”

The ditch has internal pits about a meter wide which could have held timber posts. It measures 25 meters (82 ft) in diameter, just five meters less than Stonehenge.

“From the general shape, we would guess it dates backs to about the time when Stonehenge was emerging at its most complex,” Gaffney said.

”This is probably the first major ceremonial monument that has been found in the past 50 years or so.

It was likely that the two henges were built around the same time, Gaffney added.

Radar images show the wooden henge has two entrances and inside the circle is a burial mound which was probably erected at a later time.

“We will not excavate. This is a virtual dig. We couldn’t excavate at this scale anyway,” Gaffney said.

He is confident the team will uncover more remains at the site as the project continues.

“I have absolutely no doubt. Stonehenge is not just by itself. We have a massive virtual landscape (to explore),” he added.

There is much speculation about what Stonehenge was used for, ranging from sacrificial rituals to astronomy.

The project is supported by the site’s landowner the National Trust and the English Heritage. It involves the University of Birmingham, the University of Bradford and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology in Austria.

The find comes after the UK government withdrew 10 million pounds of funding in June for a separate project to improve the landscape at the Stonehenge site.

Editing by Steve Addison

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