Neolithic “Woodhenge” Discovered at Perdigões’ Complex Portugal

Remains of a Neolithic “Woodhenge” have recently been unearthed by a team of archaeologists at Perdigões in Portugal. The newly found wooden structure was built at the end of the Stone Age and is similar in design to the famous Stonehenge circle in England. The Perdigões Neolithic “Woodhenge” discovery is remarkable because nothing like it has ever been found in Portugal before.

Archaeologists discovered the new Neolithic “Woodhenge” within the Perdigões complex in southeast Portugal. The complex is one of the most important late Stone Age sites in the Iberian Peninsula, built around 5000 years ago, in the Middle Neolithic period. The 16-hectare (40-acre) site has many concentric ditched enclosures . It lies in a natural amphitheater and has been excavated since the 1980s by archaeologists from various countries.

The large Stone Age complex in Portugal where the Perdigões’ Neolithic “Woodhenge” was recently discovered. (Perdigões Research Program)

The large Stone Age complex in Portugal where the Perdigões’ Neolithic “Woodhenge” was recently discovered. ( Perdigões Research Program )

Perdigões’ Neolithic “Woodhenge”: Ceremonial and Religious

The remains of the Perdigões Neolithic “Woodhenge” were found at the center of a number of extensive circular ditches. The team’s lead archaeologist, António Valera, is quoted by The Portugal News as saying that it was ‘a monumental wooden construction, of which the foundations remain.’ It was a circle of wooden posts, 60 feet (20 m) in diameter. The site was used from the Middle Neolithic to the beginning of the Bronze Age . In 2019, the location was recognized by the Portuguese government as a national monument.

Remains of the Neolithic “Woodhenge” were found at the center of a number of extensive circular ditches. (ERA Archueologia)

Remains of the Neolithic “Woodhenge” were found at the center of a number of extensive circular ditches. ( ERA Archueologia )

This structure has been likened to a wooden version of Stonehenge. The Perdigões complex was ‘a ceremonial construction’ Valera told The Portugal News and was used for religious and ritual purposes. A number of pits with sacrificial deposits have been uncovered. Based on these findings, it seems likely that the Perdigões’ “Woodhenge” was used in rituals and ceremonies in the Neolithic area.

Two of the circular ditch dig sites at the Perdigões complex in Portugal (Perdigões Research Program)

Two of the circular ditch dig sites at the Perdigões complex in Portugal ( Perdigões Research Program )

Important Festival Site Aligned With the Sun and the Stars

Important festivals were probably held at “Woodhenge” which were important in the socialization of individuals and for strengthening social bonds . It was also a burial ground for many centuries based on the many human remains found at the site. As has been established at similar sites, people travelled hundreds of miles to attend these festivals and ceremonies. They would often bring animals with them, such as pigs, which were sacrificed or eaten at festival feasts.

An aerial photograph of the Perdigões complex in Portugal where the Neolithic “Woodhenge” was recently found. (Perdigões Research Program)

An aerial photograph of the Perdigões complex in Portugal where the Neolithic “Woodhenge” was recently found. ( Perdigões Research Program )

The complex’s entrances aligned with the sun rise in the summer months and during the winter solstice . Evidence has also been found that suggests Portugal’s Neolithic “Woodhenge” was orientated with the movements of the stars and the sun. Archaeology quotes Valera saying, “A possible access to the interior of this structure is oriented towards the summer solstice, reinforcing its cosmological character.” The Portugal News reports Valera stating that ‘this situation is also known in other European countries as ‘woodhenges’ and ‘timber circles’, where astronomical alignment entrances are frequent, underlining the close relationship between these architectures and the Neolithic views of the world.’

New “Woodhenge” Provides a Bigger View of Stone Age Europe

What is striking about the discovery is that it is not like anything else found in the region.  The characteristics of “Woodhenge” are almost identical to structures found in central Europe and the British Isles. One of the best known of these circular timber structures is the one found near Stonehenge.

Bell Beaker culture diffusion across Europe (Fulvio314 / CC BY-SA)

Bell Beaker culture diffusion across Europe (Fulvio314 / CC BY-SA )

Valera told Archaeology that, “The circle thus links Perdigões to similar Neolithic henge sites found elsewhere in Europe.” This discovery could indicate that the late Stone Age peoples of Perdigões had connections with other cultures from distant regions. It may also show that Europe was much more interconnected in the Neolithic.

Perdigões’ Neolithic “Woodhenge” Made By Bell Beaker Culture

Another possibility is that the site could be related to the Bell Beaker culture (3500-2500 BC). “Woodhenge” may have been used as a shared social and religious site by members of this culture. Bensozia reports that the Bell Beaker culture ‘seems to have originated in Portugal.’ It is possible that the construction of these timber circles originated in this part of the Iberian Peninsula and spread elsewhere.

Valera told The Portugal News that “this discovery reinforces the already high scientific importance of the Perdigões enclosure complex in the international context of European Neolithic studies.” Future digs at the site may reveal more discoveries about Portugal’s Neolithic “Woodhenge” and the Perdigões complex. Every year students from all over the world gather at the site to learn archaeological techniques and approaches.

Top image: Representation of how Perdigões’ Neolithic “Woodhenge” would have looked (with full worked area highlighted).       Source: ERA Archueologia

By Ed Whelan

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