A pair of ditches discovered during work to cover up the main road running through Stonehenge have proven that the famous monuments were once connected to the River Avon by a formal processional approach.
Found near the Heel Stone lying about 24 metres from the entrance to Stonehenge, the ditches represent either side of The Avenue, a long, linear feature to the north-east of the site which has been severed for centuries by the A344.
© English Heritage
“The part of the Avenue that was cut through by the road has obviously been destroyed forever, but we were hopeful that archaeology below the road would survive,” said Heather Sebire, an archaeologist for English Heritage, who are currently helping decommission the road as part of a plan to make the landmark more tranquil for visitors.
“It is very exciting to find a piece of physical evidence that officially makes the connection which we were hoping for.”
Clear on aerial photos but tricky to see on the ground, The Avenue’s solstice alignment will be marked out with interpretation once the road has been replaced by grass next summer.
“This is a once in several life time’s opportunity to investigate the Avenue beneath the old road surface,” said Dr Nick Snashall, a National Trust archaeologist for the World Heritage Site.
“It has enabled us to confirm with total certainty for the first time that Stonehenge and its Avenue were once linked and will be so again shortly.”
Dry weather has allowed experts to make further discoveries – parchmarks within the stone circle, spotted by two members of staff in July, are thought to have been the holes where stones 17, 18 and 19 would have stood on the south-west side of the outer sarsen circle.
“There is still debate among archaeologists as to whether Stonehenge was a full or incomplete circle,” said senior properties historian Susan Greaney.
“The discovery of these holes for missing stones has strengthened the case for it being a full circle – albeit uneven and less perfectly formed in the south-west quadrant.”
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