Video: Village unearthed near Stonehenge

By Lester Holt Anchor
Weekend Today
updated 1/30/2007 7:46:22 PM ET 2007-01-31T00:46:22

For centuries, Stonehenge has drawn everyone from scientists to mystics — all trying to glean the origins and meaning of the nearly 5,000-year-old circle of stones. 

"Something special must have been about this place that we can't get to at the moment," says David Batchelor, an archeologist with English Heritage.

But now scientists may be closer. Just two miles from Stonehenge, in south-central England, a National Geographic team has unearthed the remains of a human settlement from about 2600 B.C. What its inhabitants left behind may explain a lot.

"We've got enormous quantities of trash," says Michael Parker-Pearson, the archaeologist leading the dig. "They are feasting and eating huge amounts of beef and corn. It's a very substantial village. It's just over there, half an hour's walk [from Stonehenge]. It's the same date as this lot going up. So we think there's a very good case for this being the homes of builders of Stonehenge."

Parker-Pearson believes Stonehenge was part of a much larger complex of structures linked by a river and a prehistoric highway — an avenue, perhaps the oldest roadway in Europe.

Carbon dating puts the construction of Stonehenge, at the same time as development in nearby Durrington Walls, where the village was found, and where a wooden circle once stood.

The team has also traced the avenues — running to and from a river — that formed what now appears to be funeral procession route leading to Stonehenge.

"I think what we're looking at is a procession that would have taken place at mid-winter," says Parker-Pearson.

Human remains have previously been found at Stonehenge itself, but no signs of anyone living there.

"The emphasis on timber for one and stone for the other, we think, is to do with transience in life, permanence in death," says Parker-Pearson.

And providing another clue to unlock the enduring mystery of Stonehenge.

Note: Join Lester Holt this Saturday, Feb. 3, on Weekend TODAY, for more secrets from Stonehenge — part of a month-long series on unsolved mysteries.

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