Stonehenge may be the most famous stone circle in the world, but its northern neighbor, Avebury, is the largest. Avebury is so big that there are actually two Stonehenge-size circles tucked inside—one of which, archaeologists believe, was built to commemorate the place where a socially important Stone Age house once stood.
Archaeologists can only speculate about who lived in the house or what its significance was. However, it probably wasn’t a home for a run-of-the-mill Fred Flintstone. The house’s foundations in Avebury’s southern inner circle suggest it was a wooden house much nicer than those that most people lived in during the Stone Age’s early Neolithic period.
“For the most part, people were not living in nice, solid wooden structures of this kind,” said Joshua Pollard, an archaeology professor at the University of Southampton, to Live Science. “So people who inhabited these buildings were perhaps of a more senior social status, [perhaps] of a more important lineage than the rest of the population.”
Pollard and his co-authors of a paper published in the April 2019 issue of Antiquity believe Stone Age people built Avebury to commemorate this important house. The massive stone monument, he told Live Science, “likely relates to the dwelling of people who were regarded as being part of an important foundational Neolithic lineage.”
This is a huge shift from when archaeologists studied the house’s foundations in 1939 and theorized that it was the site of a medieval structure. Pollard and his colleagues argue that the house’s foundations and surrounding pieces of flint tools and pottery match other examples from the early Neolithic period. They theorize that Stone Age people built the house sometime after 3700 B.C.E., several centuries before they constructed the stone circles at Avebury and Stonehenge in the modern-day county of Wiltshire.
The archaeologists note that although Avebury and Stonehenge are part of the same World Heritage Site, Avebury has received far less archeological attention than the strangely more-popular Stonehenge. In the future, they hope to examine Avebury’s northern inner circle. It’s the same size as the southern one (approximately 328 feet in diameter), and for all we know, it may also contain the remains of an important Neolithic house for the Stone Age “one percent.”