Durrington Walls

Updated: Jun 29, 2020

Vast neolithic circle of deep shafts found near Stonehenge. This prehistoric structure spanning 1.2 miles in diameter is masterpiece of engineering, say archaeologists.


A circle of deep shafts has been discovered near the world heritage site of Stonehenge, to the astonishment of archaeologists, who have described it as the largest prehistoric structure ever found in Britain.


Prof Vincent Gaffney, a leading archaeologist on the project, told The Guardian: “This is an unprecedented find of major significance within the UK. Key researchers on Stonehenge and its landscape have been taken aback by the scale of the structure and the fact that it hadn’t been discovered until now so close to Stonehenge.”


Four thousand five hundred years ago, the Neolithic peoples who constructed Stonehenge, a masterpiece of engineering, also dug a series of shafts aligned to form a circle spanning 1.2 miles (2km) in diameter. The structure appears to have been a boundary guiding people to a sacred area because Durrington Walls, one of Britain’s largest henge monuments, is located precisely at its centre. The site is 1.9 miles north-east of Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain, near Amesbury, Wiltshire.


The shafts are vast, each more than 5m deep and 10m in diameter. Approximately 20 have been found and there may have been more than 30.


Gaffney said: “The size of the shafts and circuit surrounding Durrington Walls is currently unique. It demonstrates the significance of Durrington Walls Henge, the complexity of the monumental structures within the Stonehenge landscape, and the capacity and desire of Neolithic communities to record their cosmological belief systems in ways, and at a scale, that we had never previously anticipated.”


He added: “I can’t emphasise enough the effort that would have gone in to digging such large shafts with tools of stone, wood and bone.” But then these are the same people who also built Stonehenge, dragging bluestones to the site from south-west Wales about 150 miles away.

While Stonehenge was positioned in relation to the solstices, or the extreme limits of the sun’s movement, Gaffney said the newly discovered circular shape suggests a “huge cosmological statement and the need to inscribe it into the earth itself”.


Gaffney said: “What we’re seeing is two massive monuments with their territories. Other archaeologists, including Michael Parker Pearson at University College London, have suggested that, while Stonehenge, with its standing stones, was an area for the dead, Durrington, with its wooden structures, was for the living.”


Henry Chapman, professor of archaeology at Birmingham University, described it as “an incredible new monument”, and Richard Bates, a geoscientist at St Andrews University, said it offered “an insight to the past that shows an even more complex society than we could ever imagine”.