Long before Neolithic people erected the majestic bluestones and sarsen of Stonehenge, Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age hunter-gatherers frequented the site, using it as a hunting ground. Farmers and monument builders later moved into the region, a new study finds.
Previous research had suggested that before Stonehenge was built, the surrounding landscape included a closed-canopy forest. “There has been a longstanding debate as to whether the monumental archeology of Stonehenge was created in an uninhabited forested landscape or built in an already partially open area of pre-existing importance to late Mesolithic hunter-gatherers,” the researchers said. wrote in the studio.
Now, new research shows that the area was historically open forest where large herbivores such as aurochs, an extinct cattle species, grazed. Given the high use of the site over time, it is likely that there was a continuity between Mesolithic hunter-gatherers and Neolithic or New Stone Age monument builders, the researchers said.
In other words, it’s not like the builders of Stonehenge suddenly “discovered” the site for the first time; rather, it seems that people have known this place for centuries.
Related: Why was Stonehenge built?
An early form of Stonehenge was built around 5,000 years ago, while the famous stone circle that still stands today was put together in the late Neolithic period, around 2,500 BC. according to english heritage, the UK trust that runs the site. Salisbury Plain, the plateau where Stonehenge is located, was considered a sacred area by ancient peoples and contains evidence of older structures dating back 10,500 years.
The study focused on Blick Mead, one of the earliest hunter-gatherer sites on the edge of the Stonehenge World Heritage site. Previous excavations by Blick Mead confirmed that Mesolithic people settled there before 8000 BC. C., and the new research suggests that humans continued to use this area until the Neolithic period.
To investigate Blick Mead, Samuel Hudson, a researcher at the University of Southampton in the UK, and colleagues dug a newly opened trench at the site and analyzed ancient pollen, spores and DNA, as well as animal remains, found within the samples. to learn. more about how the ancients used the land during the late Mesolithic, between 5200 B.C. C. and 4700 a. c.
Their analysis revealed that the area used to have wet prairie conditions next to open grassland with nearby deciduous forest, the team wrote in the study. Wild animals would have grazed on those open fields, and the hunter-gatherer communities that lived there 4,000 years before Stonehenge was built would have hunted the herbivores, the researchers found.
“The Stonehenge World Heritage site is globally recognized for its rich Neolithic and Bronze Age monumental landscape, but little is known about its importance to Mesolithic populations,” the study authors say. said in a statement. But now it is clear that “hunter-gatherers had already chosen part of this landscape, an alluvial clearing, as a persistent location for hunting and occupation.”
The study was published online April 27 in the journal plus one.
Originally published on Live Science.