Frantic building activity around 2 500 BC resulted in massive ceremonial structures appearing in southern Britain, a new study from Cardiff University in Wales has found.
Academics used the latest scientific methods to re-examine the remains of the Mount Pleasant ‘mega-henge’, a large prehistoric enclosure located just outside Dorchester in the county of Dorset.
This is the first time accurate dating has been obtained for the major late-Neolithic monument and offers new insights into the incredible speed at which construction took place around 4 500 years ago.
Built in less time than previously thought
Researchers say that inside the Mount Pleasant henge was a large, fenced enclosure and a complex concentric timber and stone monument. On top of the bank a great mound was built.
The new analysis shows that all these different elements were completed in less than 125 years – much less time than previously thought.
Data also indicates that the site was built only 150 years or so before the arrival of new people from continental Europe, who brought the first metals and different pottery, as well as new ideas and religious beliefs.
Famous Stonehenge also built at this time
Mount Pleasant is one of five known mega-henges in southern England of the same period. Other sites include Marden, Durrington Walls near Stonehenge, and Avebury – which are all in Wiltshire. Plus Knowlton in Dorset. World famous Stonehenge (pictured) was also built at this time.
The henges were significant ceremonial sites where people probably gathered for feasting and rituals, sometimes travelling over long distances to get there.
“This new dating really helps us understand the pivotal 2,500 BC period,” explained Susan Greaney, a PhD student at Cardiff University.
An explosion in building activity
“The picture that is emerging is that an explosion in building activity was behind these large and labour-intensive monuments being constructed across southern England and perhaps also further afield.
“The building of Mount Pleasant would have involved a huge number of people – digging out the enormous ditches with simple tools like antler picks. Although the construction of the various parts took place in several phases, with successive generations working on its construction, all the work was concentrated within just over a century.”
According to Greaney, it is still not clear is why these monuments were built in the first place.