The Damerham tombs have yet to be excavated, but experts say the long barrows likely
contain chambers—probably carved into chalk bedrock and reinforced with wood—filled
with human bones associated with ancestor worship.
(Related: "Stonehenge Was Cemetery First and Foremost, Study Says.")
During the late Stone Age, it's believed, people in the region left their dead in the open to
be picked clean by birds and other animals.
Skulls and other bones of people who were for some reason deemed significant were
later placed inside the burial mounds, Wickstead explained.
"These are bone houses, in a way," she said. "Instead of whole bodies, [the tombs
contain] parts of ancestors."
Later Monuments, Long Occupation
Other finds suggest the site remained an important focus for prehistoric farming
communities well into the Bronze Age (roughly 2000 to 700 B.C. in Britain).
Near the tombs are two large, round, ditch-encircled structures—the largest circular
enclosure being about 190 feet (57 meters) wide.
Nonintrusive electromagnetic surveys show signs of postholes, suggesting rings of
upright timber once stood within the circles—further evidence of the Damerham site's
ceremonial or sacred role.
Pollard, of the University of Bristol, likened the features to smaller versions of
Woodhenge, a timber-circle temple at the Stonehenge World Heritage site.
(See "Stonehenge Didn't Stand Alone, Excavations Show.")
Damerham also includes a highly unusual, and so far baffling, U-shaped enclosure with
postholes dated to the Bronze Age, project leader Wickstead said.
The circled outlines of 26 Bronze Age burial mounds also dot the site, which is littered
with stone flint tools and shattered examples of the earliest known type of pottery in
Evidence of prehistoric agricultural fields suggest the area was at least partly cultivated
by the time the Romans invaded Britain in the first century A.D., generally considered to
be the end of the regions' prehistoric period.
Riches Beneath Ravaged Surface?
The actual barrows and mounds near Damerham have been diminished by centuries of
plowing, but that, ironically, may make them much more valuable archaeologically,
according to Pollard, of the University of Bristol.
The mounds would have been irresistible advertisements for tomb raiders, who in the
18th and 19th centuries targeted Bronze Age burials for their ornate grave goods.
And "even if the mounds are gone, you are still going to have primary burials [as
opposed to those later added on top] which will have been dug into the chalk, so are
going to survive," Pollard added.
The contents of the Stone Age long barrows should likewise have survived, he said. "I
think there's good reason to assume you might have the main wooden mortuary
chambers with burial deposits," he said.
Redrawing the Map
An administrative oversight may also be partly responsible for the site remaining hidden—
and assumedly pristine, at least underground—project leader Wickstead said.
When prehistoric sites in the area were being mapped and documented in the 1890s, a
county-border change placed Damerham within Hampshire rather than Stonehenge's
Wiltshire, she said.
"Perhaps people in Hampshire thought [the monuments] were someone else's problem."
This lucky conjunction of plowing and politics obscured Damerham's prehistoric heritage
The site shows that "a lot of the ceremonial activity isn't necessarily located in these big
centers," such as Stonehenge, Pollard said. "But there are other locations where people
are congregating and constructing ceremonial monuments."
Huge Pre-Stonehenge Complex Found via "Crop Circles"
James Owen in London for National Geographic News
June 15, 2009
Given away by strange, crop circle-like formations seen from the air, a huge prehistoric
ceremonial complex discovered in southern England has taken archaeologists by
A thousand years older than nearby Stonehenge, the site includes the remains of
wooden temples and two massive, 6,000-year-old tombs that are among "Britain's first
architecture," according to archaeologist Helen Wickstead, leader of the Damerham
For such a site to have lain hidden for so long is "completely amazing," said Wickstead, of
Kingston University in London.
Archaeologist Joshua Pollard, who was not involved in the find, agreed. The discovery is
"remarkable," he said, given the decades of intense archaeological attention to the
greater Stonehenge region.
"I think everybody assumed such monument complexes were known about or had already
been discovered," added Pollard, a co-leader of the Stonehenge Riverside Project, which
is funded in part by the National Geographic Society. (The National Geographic Society
owns National Geographic News.)
At the 500-acre (200-hectare) site, outlines of the structures were spotted "etched" into
farmland near the village of Damerham, some 15 miles (24 kilometers) from Stonehenge
(Related: "Stonehenge Settlement Found: Builders' Homes, 'Cult Houses.'")
Discovered during a routine aerial survey by English Heritage, the U.K. government's
historic-preservation agency, the "crop circles" are the results of buried archaeological
structures interfering with plant growth. True crop circles are vast designs created by
The central features are two great tombs topped by massive mounds—made shorter by
centuries of plowing—called long barrows. The larger of the two tombs is 70 meters (230
Estimated at 6,000 years old, based on the dates of similar tombs around the United
Kingdom, the long barrows are also the oldest elements of the complex.
Such oblong burial mounds are very rare finds, and are the country's earliest known
architectural form, Wickstead said. The last full-scale long barrow excavation was in the
1950s, she added.
|These are not flattened crop circles
but plants that are growing on top of
archaeological remains. Busty
Taylor and I have discovered many
similar features across southern
England over the years. This one
though is a major new discovery 15
miles away from Stonehenge.
This remarkable discovery was made by crop circle researcher Busty Taylor near Andover,
Hampshire, England. It shows burial grounds and ancient pathways running between
structures within the old community - This site remains secret and has not yet been
excavated. Fields on this farm also have had crop circles of the swirled kind.
Copyright: Busty Taylor
Crop Circles and archaeological circles share the
same field below Silbury Hill, Wiltshire, England.
This photograph was taken during 1999.
Copyright: Colin Andrews
Insertion of the new discovery near Andover Hampshire and below Silbury Hill, Wiltshire, England by
The diameter of the crop circle feature and the underground archeological feature appear
very close. Copyright: Colin Andrews, 1999.
This site below has a similar appearance to the Damerham discovery nearby.