Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Ruby. Ruby Wonders, “Who Built The Stonehenge” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Ruby!

Have you ever WONDERed how we know so much about ancient people? After all, they lived hundreds and sometimes thousands of years ago. Some of them, like the Romans, left written records. But learning about other civilizations isn’t quite so easy.

In many cases, we learn about ancient people from the artifacts they left behind. One example is Stonehenge. The objects found at this site teach us about the people who built it. Today, most experts believe Stonehenge was once a burial site.

However, Stonehenge isn’t the only ancient site in southern England. Yes, Stonehenge had neighbors! And, just two miles northeast of Stonehenge, artifacts tell a different story. 

This location is called the Durrington Walls. There, archaeologists have found signs of ancient houses. They also think there were once two circles of wooden posts. People have found stone tools, pottery, and animal bones there.

Much of the area was studied in the 1960s. Archaeologists returned in 2005. Based on their findings, experts think Durrington Walls was used for feasts and rituals. It was also connected by a road to both Stonehenge and Woodhenge. But one of the most interesting findings didn’t happen until 2020. It was made possible by modern technology.

Archaeologists used ground-penetrating radar to probe below the surface of Durrington Walls. That’s how they found the Durrington Shafts—a series of deep shafts dug into the ground. They form a circle 1.2 miles (2 km) in diameter. Durrington Walls sits at its center. This is the largest prehistoric structure ever found in Great Britain.

The Durrington Shafts were built more than 4,500 years ago. Each one is about 16.4 feet (five meters) deep. And they’re twice as wide as they are deep. Each has a diameter of 32.8 feet (10 meters). Digging them would have been very difficult. The people who did so used basic tools made of stone, wood, and bone.

How did ancient people use the Durrington Shafts? Many experts believe the shafts may have guided people to a sacred site. They may have also served as a warning to not enter the area. Some think it may also have cosmological importance.

The discovery is the first evidence that people living in Great Britain during the Neolithic Age had a system for counting. The planning and measuring needed to build the Durrington Shafts would have required it. The builders would have counted paces from the center to dig each shaft. That’s how they made them form a circle.

So far, 20 shafts have been found. Experts believe there may have once been more than 30. Modern development has prevented them from studying about 40 percent of the circle of shafts. In recent years, many people have pushed to stop new development in the Stonehenge region. They want to protect other undiscovered objects.

What else might be found near the Durrington Shafts? Why did people build these great structures thousands of years ago? There are still many questions. Hopefully, future research aided by modern technology will uncover some of these answers.

Standards: CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.W.75

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