THE SOUND of a mechanical digger hitting stone marked the discovery of a Neolithic "lost avenue" that is being described as one of the most important finds this century. Since the 1700s, archeologists and historians have argued over the existence of the huge sarsen stones, which have been unearthed at the site of the world's biggest prehistoric stone circle at Avebury in Wiltshire.
Glyn Goodrick, an archaeologist at Newcastle University, was working alongside his archeological team's mechanical digger when it scraped the first sarsen stone to emerge from the topsoil covering the site, which lies about half a mile south-west of Avebury.
"The sound of the digger's bucket moving the earth changed suddenly, so I could tell straight away there was something there. The driver and I just looked at each other, stopped the machine and dived straight in with our shovels, scraping away the surrounding soil to reveal the top of the stone," Mr Goodrick said.
"It's the most exciting thing I've seen in 16 years working in archaeology. Taken with what we have found since, this has to be one of the most significant finds of a prehistoric site this century in England." Because of the find, the complex of prehistoric sites dating back 6,000 years that surrounds the stone circle at Avebury - including Silbury Hill, Windmill Hill, the West Kennet long barrow and the Sanctuary - will have to be reinterpreted.
One week on, a total of six sarsen stones - buried in pits intact or in the form of burnt remains - have been revealed by the 15-strong archaeological team of academics and students organised by the universities of Leicester, South-ampton and Wales.
The discovery establishes the existence of "Beckhampton Avenue", suggested and named by the 18th-century Lincoln-shire antiquarian, William Stukeley. The location and spacing of the stones unearthed this week are exactly in line with the theoretical avenue linking the Beckhampton long barrow with the Avebury henge mooted by Stukeley in the 1720s. They also form a precise alignment between the centre of the henge to the east of the current excavation and two …