Ancient henge discovered in North Downs
uncovered a stone age henge near Hollingbourne
Picture: Paul Wilkinson
An ancient ceremonial site the size of Stonehenge has been
discovered on the North Downs.
The exact purpose of the site - a neolithic “henge” near
Hollingbourne - remains shrouded in mystery, but a large amount of
burnt bone and pottery uncovered suggest it was used in a ritual
capacity for almost 2000 years, as far back as 2500BC, the end of
the Stone Age.
Dr Paul Wilkinson (pictured below) of the Kent
Archaeological Field School, which led the investigation, said the
first tantalising clue had come in the form of a circular mark
spotted in satellite images of a tract of land called The
Holmsdale, near the Pilgrims Way.
Digging began last month and has revealed a 50 metre wide henge
- a large earthwork consisting of a circular area surrounded by a
ditch and a perimeter bank - which has horn shaped entrances to the
east and west.
“I couldn’t believe the size of it,” said Dr Wilkinson. “When
you saw it you knew it was special.
“It’s a magnificent monument which would have taken a lot of
time to create. It’s a brilliant site.”
Also uncovered in the dig were antlers and cattle shoulder
blades, which archaeologists believe could have been used as pick
axes and shovels by the workers who first dug the henge out.
The lack of any sign of habitation within the circle further
strengthens the theory that it had a ritual use.
The burnt remains of human bones are likely to have been from
cremations, while its east-west entrances could have been aligned
to mark the sunset and sunrise.
With the surrounding landscape blocked from view, those
standing in the henge can see only the sky - so could the henge and
its alignment have some astronomical or astrological purpose?
Dr Wilkinson says looking at prehistory is like “looking into a
void” and any theories are speculative.
“With prehistory, it’s very enigmatic but really we have no
idea,” he said. “We approach it from 21st Century mind-set but you
have to put your head into the heads of those who built it, which
But the discovery is undoubtedly significant.
Previously discovered Bronze Age barrows, ancient springs and
trackways nearby meant the area was long known to have prehistoric
importance, but the discovery of a henge - rare in South East
England and almost unheard of in Kent - makes the site doubly
When is a henge not a henge? - when it’s Stonehenge.
According to some experts Stonehenge is not technically a
henge, because its enclosing bank is surrounded by its ditch,
rather than vice versa, as in a true henge.
The world famous Wiltshire site might be recognised for its
great Sarsen Stones and supposedly sacred bluestones, but the
stones are irrelevant to its status as a henge earthwork.
A neolithic earthwork was constructed at the site of Stonehenge
around 3500BC, about a thousand years before the famous stone
structure was erected, and it is possible rings of wooden
posts preceded the first stones at the site.
But the discovery of one so close to the Medway Megaliths - the
ancient stone structures at Aylesford, Trottiscliffe, and
Addington, also unique in the South East - adds weight to
speculation that the North Downs around Maidstone was an area of
great importance in Stone Age Britain.
Work will continue to date remains found at the henge, and
further investigation is planned with a geophysical survey and more
archaeological field-walking at Holmsdale.
- Click here for more news from across the county...