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Stonehenge-Like ‘Timber Circles’ Found in Portugal

The 66-foot wide circle of wooden posts predates the British monument by several hundred years

Archaeologists have excavated about one-third of the 66-foot wide timber circle, shown on the right. The other portion of this composite image draws on an aerial photograph to give a sense of the structure's size. (ERA Arqueologia / Facebook)
smithsonianmag.com

Archaeologists in southern Portugal have discovered the remains of a Stonehenge-like, 4,500-year-old monument constructed not out of stone, but wood.

Today, all that’s left of the structure is its approximately 66-foot wide foundation, which is punctuated by holes where wooden posts once stood in several concentric rings. Like Stonehenge, the monument was built to line up with the rising sun on the summer solstice. But the Portuguese site—the first of its kind found on the Iberian Peninsula, says archaeologist António Valera to the Lusa News Agencyis actually several hundred years older than Stonehenge.

“We interpret it as a ceremonial place and prefer to refer to it as timber circles” rather than the catchier but less accurate “Woodhenge,” Valera, who led the excavations for archaeology company Era Arqueologia, tells Live Science’s Owen Jarus.

The prehistoric monument sits in a much larger archaeological landscape called the Perdigões complex. First identified in 1996, when a local vineyard decided to till new land for growing grapes, the 40-acre archaeological site is located in southern Portugal’s Evora district. Excavations suggest travelers from across the region convened there for ceremonies, festivals and burials between 3500 and 2000 B.C., writes Ed Whelan for Ancient Origins.

As the Portugal News reports, archaeologists found the timber circles at the center of a complex of ditches in the Perdigões complex. Per Live Science, the researchers estimate that they’ve uncovered about a third of the structure’s foundation. Additional finds include animal bones and pottery shards.

“A possible access to the interior of this structure is oriented towards the summer solstice, reinforcing its cosmological character,” Valera tells the Portugal News.

Other monolithic monuments around Europe share a similar alignment, he adds, “underlining the close relationship between these architectures and the Neolithic views of the world."

Given the strong resemblance between the timber circles and wooden monuments discovered in central Europe and the British Isles, the archaeologists suggest that late Stone Age peoples may have interacted with, seen or shared the Portuguese monuments’ designs. Examples of similar monumental structures include Woodhenge, a Neolithic site near Stonehenge that also boasted concentric rings of timber posts; the stone circle at Avebury in southwest England; and the Callanish Stones on Scotland’s Isle of Lewis.

As Valera says to the Portugal News, “This discovery reinforces the already high scientific importance of the Perdigões enclosure complex in the international context of European Neolithic studies while increasing its heritage relevance.”

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