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Neolithic henge site unearthed in Suffolk

A 4,000-year-old wooden trackway that forms the centrepiece of a Neolithic henge has been unearthed by archaeologists. Ancient springs that surrounded the circular monument, which dates from 2,300BC, have led to the excellent preservation of organic material like bone and wood. That includes the skull of a 6,300-year-old species of wild cattle, known as aurochs, as well as wooden posts.

Neolithic henge site unearthed in Suffolk
Archaeologists excavate the Suffolk site [Credit: Scottish Power]
Experts have described the site, near Woodbridge, Suffolk, as having 'international significance'. The finds were made as part of excavation work for a cable being laid for a £2.5bn ($3.3bn) offshore wind farm in the area. Energy company ScottishPower Renewables was digging a 23 mile (40km) trench to connect new turbines to the national grid.

Around 70 archaeologists have been working near Woodbridge since February, carefully unearthing the 100 foot (30-metre) long wooden track, which forms the centrepiece of the prehistoric monument. Initial theories suggest that the area's natural springs, which can still be seen today, may have been part of the reason that the area had special significance to the area's stone age inhabitants.

Neolithic henge site unearthed in Suffolk
Archaeologists working on the excavation [Credit: Scottish Power]
Richard Newman, associate director at Wardell Armstrong who worked on the dig, said: "Undoubtedly this is a site of international archaeological significance. It is exceptionally rare to find preserved organic materials from the Neolithic period, and we will learn a great deal from this discovery. "

"Some of the wood is so well preserved we can clearly see markings made by an apprentice, before a more experienced tradesman has taken over to complete the job. Initially some of the wooden posts looked like they were maybe one hundred years old, and it is incredible to think that they are over 4,000 years old."

Neolithic henge site unearthed in Suffolk
Tanged arrow head discovered at the site [Credit: Scottish Power]
Diggers also found the skull of an auroch, an extinct species of large wild cattle, which has been carbon dated to around 4,300 BC. The skull has been cut in a way that suggests it had potentially been fixed to a pole as a totem or used as some form of headdress. At the time the trackway was built, the skull was already 2,000 years old, suggesting it was a significant item.

Substantial numbers of white pebbles, not common in the area, were also found beside the track. The positions in which the stones were found suggests they were deliberately deposited in a way that had significance to the people at the time.

Neolithic henge site unearthed in Suffolk
Auroch skull in situ [Credit: Scottish Power]
Because organic finds of this age are so rare and vulnerable when exposed, they needed to be kept wet during excavation. The features containing the organic material were flooded every night and the archaeologists continually sprayed the wood to keep the trackway preserved as they worked.

The wood and other artefacts have now been sent for further analysis, and some of the leading experts on the Neolithic period have already visited to help build up a full picture of activities on the site.

Neolithic henge site unearthed in Suffolk
A 4,300-year-old stake discovered in a field in Suffolk [Credit: Scottish Power]
Up to 400 archaeologists have been involved over the last two years, with up to 250 people on site at any given time.

Charlie Jordan, East Anglia One project director for ScottishPower Renewables, said: "In the last two years our project has been responsible for uncovering artefacts from the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman and Medieval periods, but is seems that the best has been saved to last."

Neolithic henge site unearthed in Suffolk
More than 70 archaeologists have been working at the site of the Neolithic trackway [Credit: Scottish Power]
Started earlier this year, the 102-turbine East Anglia ONE project aims to provide enough energy to power the equivalent of almost 600,000 homes, which is the majority of households in Suffolk and Norfolk. The project should be fully operational by 2020.

Source: Tim Collins | Source: Daily Mail [June 29, 2018]


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