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Ancient Civilization Discovered at Stonehenge

Archaeologists have unearthed an ancient settlement that they believe is connected to Stonehenge, the legendary monument on England's Salisbury Plain. Archeologists say the village, known as Durrington Walls, once housed a vibrant community of ancient people. VOA's Jessica Berman reports from Washington.

Durrington Walls is located about three kilometers from Stonehenge not far from the banks of the Avon River.

Archaeologists excavated eight houses from the wooden settlement, but they believe there may be at least 25 more dwellings. Each home was approximately five by five meters.

Using carbon dating, the scientists estimate the houses at Durrington Walls were constructed around 2600 B.C., during the same period as Stonehenge, a circle of massive stones that enclose a series of concentric rings.

But they say the wooden settlement is the larger of the two, each of which has a large path, or avenue, leading to the Avon River.

Stonehenge is famous for its solstice orientation. The ancient monument faces the midsummer sunrise and the midwinter sunset.

But archaeologists say the wooden circle of Durrington is pointed squarely in the direction of the midsummer sunset and a midwinter sunrise.

Scientists say the evidence suggests that the two were opposite in other ways.

Parker Pearson says he and his colleagues found evidence of 4,600-year-old debris strewn everywhere inside the tiny huts.

"That consists of broken pots, chips, flint, burnt stones used in cooking and vast quantities of animal bones," he said. "And what's really interesting about these is that many of these were thrown away half eaten. This is what we would call conspicuous consumption. It's an enormous feasting assemblage. People were here to have a really good time."

But Stonehenge was a solemn place, according to Parker Pearson, who says anthropologists have so far only turned up cremated remains at the site, suggesting the monument was used to honor important people.

Long after Stonehenge was constructed, according to archaeologist Julian Thomas of Manchester University, Durrington Walls appears to have become some sort of shrine.

"After those timbers had rotted away, people came back and dug holes where the posts had been and placed deposits of animal bones and pottery and stone tools into the craters where the posts had been, so that you are creating a kind of architecture of memory, a commemoration of where the monument that no longer exists, had been," he said.

The archaeologists say the findings confirm that Stonehenge was not built in isolation, but was constructed by a settlement of people who were part of much bigger religious complex of solar worshippers.