Stonehenge: Osteoarchaeologist discusses find of human bones
Stone circles are most commonly found in Europe, specifically Northwestern Europe, and especially in Britain, Ireland and Brittany. They are megalithic structures, consisting — as the name suggests — of stones, sometimes tipped over to the side, often standing, more or less arranged in a circle. These ancient monuments are believed to have served vital purposes in the communities that they were once a part of: they would have drawn crowds far and wide for worship, perhaps sacrifice, and to mark significant events like solstices and eclipses.
There are over 1,000 surviving examples of these stone circles in the British Isles, like Stonehenge in Salisbury, the Ring of Brodgar in Scotland, Cerrig Duon in Wales, and Ciorcal Cloch Uragh in Ireland.
And in the further Western European region, another 50,000 or so are dotted around.
But, while they are considered mostly characteristic of the Western European world, odd structures apparently resembling stone circles have been found all around the world, including in Bulgaria, Morocco, Japan, Poland, Syria and Israel.
It is in the latter country, Israel, that researchers once made an astonishing discovery, and which the Smithsonian Channel explored in its documentary, ‘Stonehenge-like Structures Have Been Found All Over the World’.
The find was made in the small Israeli town of Atlit, which sits on the Mediterranean coast.
Archaeology: The divers found the ancient settlement just off the coast os Israel
Stone circles: There are thousands of stone circles in Western Europe, Stonehenge the most famous
In 1984, Ehud Galili, a maritime archaeologist, went out on a routine dive around 400 metres away from the shore in order to search for shipwrecks exposed by the shifting sands of the seabed after a heavy storm.
What he came across, however, was far bigger than a shipwreck, as the documentary’s narrator explained: “He discovered an ancient sunken settlement.”
Galili said: “Usually we find remnants from shipwrecks like anchors, metal, nails, all kinds of artefacts.
“But while we were diving here we found a wall.”
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Israel: The remains were found near to the coastal town of Atlit
On further inspection, a segment of wall that once formed part of a house made itself clear, and within days of this, he alongside a team of divers went on to uncover the foundations of a larger building.
More grim was Galili’s discovery of countless skeletons of those who once called the settlement home.
He said: “We found about 15 family houses.
“We estimated that the population was between 70 to 150 people at one time.”
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Divers: A routine dive, it soon turned into something much bigger
Ehud Galili: He said the site was around 40,000 square metres
It was not long before Galili and his team realised that they had stumbled on a massive archaeological site, as he explained: “We found walls, dwellings, structure in situ as they were left.
“Little by little, we came to realise that it is a huge site, 40,000 square metres.”
Later radiocarbon dating showed that the site was almost 9,000 years old, making it one of the oldest settlements on Earth.
Among the mysterious relics found — which were all in almost perfect condition — the divers came across a stone circle that stood as it did when it was first built.
UK’s stone circles: Just some of Britain’s most famous stone circle megaliths
It shed light on how the ancient people who once called the settlement home lived, and also added to researchers’ understanding of stone circle sites elsewhere around the world.
The circle was found at the centre of the settlement, suggesting it was some sort of focal point, and consisted of seven megaliths weighing up to 600 kilograms arranged in a semi-circle formation.
Each stone had a cup mark carved into it and was placed around what appeared to be a fresh spring — researchers suggesting that the stones were perhaps part of a water ritual.
Some other stones in a loose formation were also found — three oval stones — two of which had grooves forming anthropomorphic figures sketched into them.
Skeletons: In a gruesome turn of events, the divers found the remains of humans along the seabed
Despite thousands of miles separating Stonehenge and the Israeli site, some archaeologists have claimed that any stone circle discovery is vital in helping to understand the true purpose of Stonehenge.
Mary-Ann Ochota, an anthropologist and archaeologist, said: “When you’re looking at Stonehenge you’re seeing a culmination of the labour of people, extraordinary use of resources, and an astonishingly complex, perfectly executed idea.
“Every time we find a new stone monument, it gives us another piece of evidence on that detective hunt to try and work out ‘what were the ancestors thinking?; why did they build this? And what did it all mean?’”