Archaeologists Discover 4,000-Year-Old ‘Dutch Stonehenge’

The ritual site was once used to determine the longest and shortest days of the year

Artist rendering
A rendering of what the site in Tiel may have once looked like Alexander Van Bunt / Gemeente Tiel

Archaeologists in the Netherlands have discovered a 4,000-year-old ritual site—and like Stonehenge in Britain, it was used to track the summer and winter solstices.

Stretching across more than nine acres (roughly seven American football fields), the site featured three mounds of soil, which formed pathways for sunlight to shine through on the longest and shortest days of the year. The mounds also held the remains of some 60 adults and children who lived between 2500 and 1200 B.C.E.

“The shrine must have been an important place,” say the researchers in a Google-translated statement from the Dutch municipality of Tiel. “People kept special days in the year, performed rituals and buried their dead.”

Drone view
Archaeologists began work in the area starting in 2016, uncovering over a million artifacts. Gemeente Tiel

Unlike Stonehenge, however, no stone monuments remain at the newly discovered site. It was built with wood, which decomposed long ago. 

“It is known that farmers have been concerned with the positions of the sun since the Stone Age,” Stijn Arnoldussen, a historian at the Netherlands’ University of Groningen, tells the Dutch broadcaster NOS, per Google Translate. “Yet such a complete, coherent landscape as has now been discovered is not often seen.”

Cristian van der Linde, the archaeologist who led the excavation, tells the London Times’ Bruno Waterfield that a priest or priestess would have viewed the sun from a certain point at the site to determine the time of year.

Bijzonder heiligdom opgegraven in Tiel

“For these people it was important to gain some control of time and to be able to predict seasonal changes, which they know would occur, but they could now pinpoint,” he adds. “People could see where they were in time.”

In recent years, excavations in the Dutch town of Tiel have revealed more than a million artifacts from the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman Empire and Middle Ages. One of the most fascinating finds is a glass bead—the oldest ever discovered in the Netherlands. The team thinks that it originally came from modern-day Iraq, showing that the Bronze Age inhabitants of this area had contact with groups more than 3,000 miles away.

Glass bead
The glass bead uncovered at the site comes from modern-day Iraq, more than 3,000 miles away. Gemeente Tiel

“Glass was not made here, so the bead must have been a spectacular item at the time, made of a material unknown to many people,” Arnoldussen tells NOS.

Looking ahead, the researchers are “thinking about how we tell the story to the public,” says alderman Frank Groen in the statement.

For now, the Flipje and Regional Museum in Tiel will display some of the Bronze Age grave artifacts, and the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden is showing discoveries from a nearby group grave.

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