Ancient housing settlement discovered near Stonehenge

21:50 30 January 2007
NewScientist.com news service
New Scientist and Reuters

Evidence of a large settlement full of houses dating back to 2600 BC has been discovered near the ancient stone monument of Stonehenge in southwest England, scientists said on Tuesday.

They suspect inhabitants of the houses, forming the largest Neolithic village ever found in Britain, built the stone circle at Stonehenge – generally thought to have been a temple, burial ground or an astronomy site – between 3000 and 1600 BC.

“We found the remains of eight houses,” Mike Parker Pearson, a professor of archaeology at Sheffield University, UK, said in a teleconference to announce the discovery.

“We think they are part of a much larger settlement. I suspect we can identify 25 likely house sites. My guess is that there are many more than that,” he added.

Village of builders
During excavation at Durrington Walls, about 3 kilometres from Stonehenge, scientists working on the seven-year Stonehenge Riverside Project detected dozens of hearths.

They also uncovered the outlines of box beds and wooden dressers or cupboards and 4600 year-old debris, including burnt stones and animal bones strewn on the clay floors.

“We think we are looking at the village of the builders of Stonehenge,” he added.

The houses measured about 5 metres (16 feet) square and were located in a small valley north of Stonehenge that leads down to the River Avon. They are on either side of an avenue that leads from the river to a wooden version of Stonehenge.

“We think our discovery is very significant for understanding the purpose of Stonehenge. What we have revealed is that Stonehenge is one half of a larger complex,” said Parker Pearson, referring to the stone and wooden circles.

Feasts and parties
The scientists believe Stonehenge and Durrington Walls were complementary sites. Neolithic people gathered at Durrington Walls for massive feasts and parties while Stonehenge was a memorial or burial site for the dead.

“We are looking at least a century, probably several centuries of use, at both sites,” said Parker Pearson. “Stonehenge is our biggest cemetery from that period. There is a very interesting contrast in terms of life and death.”

Stonehenge’s avenue is aligned on the midsummer solstice sunrise, while the Durrington avenue corresponds with the midwinter solstice sunset, according to the researchers. Tourists are drawn to Stonehenge throughout the year but the most popular day at the site is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.

Druids, a pagan religious order dating back to Celtic Britain, gather at Stonehenge, about 160 km west of London, during the summer solstice because they believe it was a centre of spiritualism.

“This is a place of enormous importance that has been remembered over a long period of time,” said Julian Thomas of Manchester University, who also worked on the project.

Sacred Cave of Rome’s Founders Discovered


Maria Cristina Valsecchi in Rome for
National Geographic News
January 26, 2007
Archaeologists say they have unearthed Lupercale—the sacred cave where, according to legend, a she-wolf nursed the twin founders of Rome and where the city itself was born.
The long-lost underground chamber was found beneath the remains of Emperor Augustus’ palace on the Palatine, a 230-foot-tall (70-meter-tall) hill in the center of the city.

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Archaeologists from the Department of Cultural Heritage of the Rome Municipality came across the 50-foot-deep (15-meter-deep) cavity while working to restore the decaying palace.
“We were drilling the ground near Augustus’ residence to survey the foundations of the building when we discovered the cave,” said Irene Iacopi, the archaeologist in charge of the area.
“We knew from ancient reports that the Lupercale shouldn’t be far from the Emperor’s palace, but we didn’t expect to find it. It was a lucky surprise.
“We didn’t enter the cave but took some photos with a probe,” Iacopi added.
“They show a richly decorated vault encrusted with mosaics and seashells, too rich to be part of a home. That’s why we think it could be the ancient sanctuary, but we can’t be sure until we find the entrance to the chamber.”

Ancient Legend
According to myth, Lupercale is where a she-wolf suckled Romulus and Remus, the twin sons of the war god Mars and mortal priestess Rhea Silvia, who had been abandoned in a cradle on the bank of the Tiber River. The cave’s name, in fact, comes from the Latin word for wolf, lupus.
The brothers are said to have later founded Rome on April 21, 753 B.C., at the site. But they eventually fought for the leadership of the new city, and Romulus killed his brother.
That didn’t stop the site from becoming a sacred place to ancient Romans.
Every year on February 15 ancient priests killed a dog and two goats and smeared the foreheads of two boys from noble families with the sacrificial blood as part of the Lupercalia celebration. (Related: “‘Rome’ TV Wardrobe Not Built in a Day [August 26, 2005].)
The ceremony survived until A.D. 494, when Pope Gelasius put an end to the tradition.
The Palatine Hill also became the residential area of the most affluent Roman citizens beginning in 500 B.C. When the Roman Republic became the Roman Empire in the first century B.C., Augustus even built himself and his wife Livia palaces on top of the hill.
Later emperors followed his example and built larger and larger homes on the same spot. Now the whole hill is a honeycomb of buildings and tunnels extending far underground.
The English word “palace” derives from “Palatium,” the Latin name of the area.

Crumbling Ruins
“The tale of the birth of Rome is part myth and part historical truth,” said Andrea Carandini, historian and archaeologist at the University of Rome, La Sapienza.
“The story of the twins reflects the previous tradition of the Lares, the twin deities protecting the area, but there was indeed a historical founder who constituted the Palatine Hill as the sacred heart of the city around 775 B.C.,” he added. “The archaeological findings are providing more and more evidence that the tale of Rome’s foundation isn’t a later legend but originates from historical facts,” he said. Time may been running out for additional discoveries, however.
“The remains are now crumbling due to atmospheric agents and lack of funds for maintenance,” head archaeologist Iacopi said. “Most of the buildings are closed to the public for safety reasons. It’s a real pity. “Archaeologists are doing what they can to restore and stabilize the ruins,” she added. “Now we have to find the entrance and study the chamber,” Iacopi said.
“In the meantime we are going to finish the restorations in Augustus’ palace. We hope to open part of the emperor’s residence to the public in a few months.”