Hidden Histories

Neolithic ritual site – henge and track near Woodbridge

Excavation ditch. © scottishpower

In 2018, diggers laying groundwork for a windfarm discovered an unknown site which the world press reported was of international significance.

On digging the clay sloping field that headed towards the riverbank clear spring water came bubbling up from the ground, along with massive timbers that were perfectly preserved. The timbers were dated to 4,300 years old, although the underlying timbers were much older as there was evidence that this Neolithic trackway had been repeatedly restored by successive generations. Ancient springs surrounded a circular monument constructed out of posts and stakes likened to a henge in form. This circular monument consisted of a ditch and an external earthwork with a burial mound at the centre. The henge ditch had a walkway described as being “perfectly preserved” [1] with Richard Newman from Wardell Armstrong who oversaw the archaeology describing the site as undoubtedly of “international significance” [2].

Auroch skull. © scottishpower

As much as 30 metres of this timber track were unearthed along with some massive horns and the skull of an auroch, an extinct breed of giant cattle. The timber trackway offered a means of connecting with the ‘other’ as favoured locations were often liminal, providing an analogy for the process of travelling across a barrier into the spiritual realm. Liminal zones where the river met the land, fjords, river inlets, bridges and intertidal zones were spaces between this world and the next, the underworld. Bridging the liminal physicality of water through practical means became symbolic of religiosity and kingly rule such as the Roman tradition of the high priest, becoming known as the ‘pontifex maximus’, ‘the greatest bridge-builder.’ Water represented the maternal depth and place of rebirth with wet and watery landscape features seen as potent markers, a conduit for the ‘in between’, where transitions were possible, travelling between the present world into the supernatural “even from the living to the dead.” [3].

Tanged arrowhead.© scottishpower

From the platform, objects were dropped into the running spring water, including pottery, metal and the horned auroch’s skull which had been carefully shaped so that it could be fixed to either a pole or for use as part of a headdress. A common facet of non-Christian soul belief and shamanistic practice was the belief in a totemic guardian animal which endowed the wearer with its power which as a religious phenomenon, totemism was most often associated with ancestor or earth cults. Incredibly, the skull was already an ancient artifact when it was ritually deposited into the water as tests confirmed it was at least 2,000 years older than the track itself as it was radiocarbon dated to 4,300 B.C.


Wooden trackway © scottishpower

Masses of white pebbles were also discovered, presumably placed somehow for symbolic, ritual and artistic means, brought specially to the site. Many other Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in Britain and Ireland use white pebbles, sometimes quartz, placed around the monument or on its facades, such as at Newgrange, Ireland. We can surmise that this white reflective coating was to capture or mirror the light of the sun or moon as monuments from this era were built to conform with and honour that path of these celestial bodies, and perhaps even the Milky Way [4]. The Milky Way as a celestial river played a symbolic role in the journey of the afterlife with many Neolithic henge monuments in the UK constructed so as to point towards this starry gateway [5].

Research has confirmed that when the timber trackway was originally laid, the site had already been prized for at least 500 years with an earlier Neolithic causewayed enclosure built around 4,800 years ago. Mr Monahan, of Archaeological Solutions in Bury St Edmunds, “nothing compares with the intensity and complexity of this site and how it was utilised for thousands of years” [6].



1. BBC (2018) Neolithic henge unearthed at East Anglia One cable site.

2. Kennedy, M. (2018) The Guardian. Archaeologists stumble on Neolithic ritual site in Suffolk.

3. Semple, S. (2013) Perceptions of the Prehistoric in Anglo-Saxon England Religion, Ritual, and Rulership in the Landscape, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

4. Murphy, A. (2002) Ancient Astronomers of the Stone Age. 

5. Grigsby, J. (2022) The Milky Way and the Goddess of the Henges. 
Journal of Skyscape Archaeology, 8(1).

6. BBC (2018) Ibid.