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Within the outer edge of the enclosed area is a circle of 56 pits, each about a metre (3 ft 3 in) in diameter, known as the Aubrey holes after John Aubrey, the seventeenth-century antiquarian who was thought to have first identified them.
The pits may have contained standing timbers creating a timber circle, although there is no excavated evidence of them.
The Oxford English Dictionary cites Ælfric's tenth-century glossary, in which henge-cliff is given the meaning "precipice", or stone, thus the stanenges or Stanheng "not far from Salisbury" recorded by eleventh-century writers are "supported stones".
William Stukeley in 1740 notes, "Pendulous rocks are now called henges in Yorkshire...
Dating and understanding the various phases of activity is complicated by disturbance of the natural chalk by periglacial effects and animal burrowing, poor quality early excavation records, and a lack of accurate, scientifically verified dates.
The modern phasing most generally agreed to by archaeologists is detailed below.
Another Mesolithic astronomical site in Britain is the Warren Field site in Aberdeenshire, which is considered the world's oldest Lunar calendar, corrected yearly by observing the midwinter solstice.
Similar but later sites have been found in Scandinavia.
In approximately 3500 BC, a Stonehenge Cursus was built 700 metres (2,300 ft) north of the site as the first farmers began to clear the trees and develop the area.These held pine posts around 0.75 metres (2 ft 6 in) in diameter, which were erected and eventually rotted in situ.Three of the posts (and possibly four) were in an east-west alignment which may have had ritual significance.The stones are set within earthworks in the middle of the most dense complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, including several hundred burial mounds.Archaeologists believe it was constructed from 3000 BC to 2000 BC.