Archaeologists discover astonishing ancient henge in UK countryside | UK | News

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Archaeologists discover astonishing ancient henge in UK countryside | UK | News

Archaeologists digging in an empty stretch of Lincolnshire countryside have found a 1,300-year-old hermitage on the site of an even older henge.

While both discoveries amazed researchers, the henge has particularly piqued interest after it was found to date to the late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age.

The site was at some point abandoned and wasn’t reoccupied until the 7th century during the Anglo-Saxon period.

The henge, a type of circular earthwork, came to light during excavations at Anchor Church Field, located to the northeast of Crowland. 

It is one of the largest ever henges discovered anywhere in the country and contains untold secrets about rituals and ceremonies in ancient Britain.

The findings, published in the Journal of Field Archaeology, describe the henge as measuring around 250 feet across and being surrounded by a ditch 16 feet wide.

When it was constructed, the henge lay on a peninsula that was surrounded on three sides by water and marshes and sat atop a distinctive point visible from afar.

Because of this, experts believe it would most likely have served as some sort of prominent hub for ceremonial activity.

It shines a light on Britain’s ritualistic past and also offers crucial evidence to understand the later invaders who reached Britain’s shores.

The team, which included archaeologists from Newcastle University and the University of Sheffield, also came across the remnants of what appears to be an old hermitage. Local tradition holds that the site was once home to a hermitage in honour of Saint Guthlac, a Christian hermit and saint from Lincolnshire, who died in 714.

A cult of personality was built around Guthlac and the son of a nobleman was later venerated by a small monastic community dedicated to keeping his memory alive. His popularity was key in establishing Crowland Abbey in the 10th century.

Researchers aren’t entirely sure where this hermitage stood, though knew it had to be somewhere in the region. The discovery of the henge and evidence of a hermitage-like building has led them to conclude they have found the spot.  

Dr Duncan Wright, Lecturer in Medieval Archaeology at Newcastle University, was part of the team that made the discovery. Writing in the paper, he said: « We know that many prehistoric monuments were reused by the Anglo-Saxons, but to find a henge—especially one that was previously unknown—occupied in this way is really quite rare.

“Although the Anglo-Saxon objects we found cannot be linked with Guthlac with any certainty, the use of the site around this time and later in the medieval period adds weight to the idea that Crowland was a sacred space at different times over millennia.”

Aside from the henge, the most prominent features found during the excavations include the remains of a 12th-century hall and chapel. These were built by the Abbots of Crowland, most likely to venerate the hermits who once lived there.

Its hall would have served elite accommodation, perhaps for high-status pilgrims visiting Crowland.

Much of the stone used for the hermitage was stolen in the 19th century but archive documents suggest that the chapel on the site was dedicated to St Pega, Guthlac’s sister, herself an important hermit in the region.

In front of the hall and chapel, archaeologists found a one-metre stone-lined pit previously believed to be a well. The most recent excavations suggest it is some sort of flagpost hole or an indent in the ground for a large cross.

After the 12th century, the land around the Crowland was drained, in the process changing its topography and leading to different uses by those who lived around it. Soon, it became a place that could be ploughed and farmed.

The chapel’s function as a high-status place of worship diminished with the onset and increase in farming, and over time it became less important. It did, however, right up until the 18th century remain as a place where hermits were venerated.

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