When it comes to the conspicuousness of the Marden Henge, the site doesn’t really hold a candle to the imposing nature of its ‘brethren’ – the Stonehenge. In essence, one would not be too impressed even while standing in the middle of the location. But beyond time-fueled dilapidation, the Marden Henge boasted of giant circular earthworks that once stood around 10 ft high, and these man-made berms encircled nearly 40 acres of land. To put things into perspective, this massive scope of the Neolithic monument is a whopping ten-times bigger than that of Stonehenge. Interestingly, the site itself lies just a few miles south of Stonehenge, and is also estimated to be dated from around the same time – which is 4,500 years ago (when the ‘second phase’ of Stonehenge construction began).
Now, in spite of the gargantuan scale of the Marden Henge, archaeologists haven’t really given much of their attention to the site – possibly due to the lack of striking physical structures present within the parameters. But the scope of unfamiliarity is all set to be changed with the recent archaeological expedition conducted by the collaborative effort of University of Reading and Historic England. Their hard-work over the period of three years has already yielded many interesting finds, including ruins of buildings, artifacts and even human remains.
In that regard, one of the latest discoveries made by the researchers (conducted in 2015) points towards a special stone structure in the middle zone of the henge. This building (constructed from chalk blocks) incorporated a fire pit-like component that could reach very high temperatures – as is evident from the scorched marks that reached the depths of few inches even below the ground level. In other words, the early Bronze Age people could easily achieve high degrees of ‘man-made’ heat inside the confines of the shelter.
The archaeologists have provided three hypotheses regarding the purpose of this structure. The first one relates to how the building might have been used for roasting pigs and grand feasts, a potential scenario bolstered by the evidence of many pig bones found beside it. However, the building could have also served as sort of sweat-lodge, where initiates were ritually cleansed before participating in ceremonies. Thirdly, the structure may have been used as a metallurgy shed where the inhabitants tried to smelt metals and fire bluish sarsen stones.
As for the other fascinating finds, the researchers had also come across exquisitely-crafted decorative arrowheads, flint blades, copper bracelets and pottery with artwork (and food residue). But arguably the more striking discovery pertains to the 4000-year old remains of an adolescent who had a height of just 5 ft. The young teenager was buried in the fetal position, along with an amber necklace, in Wilsford Henge – which is just outside the main embankment of the Marden Henge.
Interestingly enough, the archaeologists are leaning towards the conjecture that Marden Henge may have been too big to actually served any practical purpose. Now, as is suspected with Stonehenge, a concentrated effort borne out of religious (or factional) fervor might have played its crucial role in gathering the huge manpower required for the Neolithic project. Still the researchers have noted how this ‘building boom’ during the particular period – that also includes other big monuments like Stonehenge and Avebury, related to some ‘rash’ planning and display of wealth. As Jim Leary, director of the archaeology field school at the University of Reading, said –
It was insane, utterly unsustainable. We tend to think of people during the Neolithic as somehow being at one with their environment, but they appear to have been just as bad as we are. They were clearing, felling, digging, and consuming their environment at an unsustainable rate in building these huge projects.
Source: National Geographic