HIDDEN REMAINS of an extraordinary neolithic monument that could be unique in the world have been found buried beneath the ground a mile from Stonehenge.
More than 4,500 years ago, at least 90 huge stone monoliths lined an impressive “arena” that may have been used for religious rites or solstice rituals.
Now lying on their sides covered by three feet of earth, they remained undiscovered until archaeologists equipped with ground-penetrating radar probed the area around the famous stone circle on Salisbury Plain.
They are the most important find to emerge so far from the Hidden Landscapes project, which is using state-of-the-art technology to map “invisible” archaeological features embedded in the Wiltshire countryside.
The stones, some measuring nearly 15ft, were placed along the south-eastern edge of what later became the Durrington Walls “superhenge” – a circular enclosure ringed by a ditch and bank that, at nearly a mile across, is the largest earthwork of its kind in the UK.
Experts believe the stones, which may have been credited with magical properties, were not originally part of the henge but were deliberately toppled before being incorporated into it.
Professor Vince Gaffney, from the University of Bradford, one of the archaeologists leading the project, said: “We’re looking at one of the largest stone monuments in Europe and it has been under our noses for something like 4,000 years.
“It’s truly remarkable. We don’t think there’s anything quite like this anywhere else in the world.
“This is completely new and the scale is extraordinary.”
He added: “We presume it to be a ritual arena of some sort.
“These things are theatrical. They’re designed to impress and impose; to give the idea of authority to the living and the dead.
“It really does create a massive impression, and was clearly important enough to have been drawn into the developing landscape.”
The archaeologists have found 90 stones so far, but believe there may be even more wating to be discovered.
What kind of material they are made of is unknown, but it is speculated that they are likely to be similar to the giant sandstone “sarsens” of Stonehenge.
Prof Gaffney believes the stones may have been planted by the same people who built Stonehenge, but is sceptical about a direct link between the two monuments.
They were placed along a steep slope, or scarp, cut into a natural dry valley to form a C-shaped feature.
Precisely why the stones were put there remains a mystery.