Scientists believe that Seahenge (pictured) may have been build as part of a ritual attempt to bring back warmer weather and prolong summer
When it comes to the mysteries of Britain's Neolithic past, Stonehenge is probably the structure people would recognise the most.

But archaeologists are now beginning to unravel the secrets of an even stranger structure, built off the coast of Norwich 4,000 years ago.

Researchers believe that 'Seahenge' and a second nearby monument were built by ancient Britons during a period of extreme cold, in an effort to try and bring back the warm weather.

Dr David Nance, an archaeologist at the University of Aberdeen, argues that Seahenge was built to resemble a cage designed to extend summer by keeping a young cuckoo singing.

Comment: Well, that's one archaeologist's speculation.

Dr Nance says: 'Both monuments are best explained as having different functions and associated rituals, but with a common intent: to end the severely cold weather.'

Seahenge, or Holme I as it is scientifically known, was first discovered by archaeologists in 1998 near the village of Holme-next-the-sea, Norfolk.

The structure is made up of 55 split oak trunks arranged in an oval 25 feet (7.5 meters) across surrounding a 'horseshoe' of five larger oak posts centred around an inverted oak stump.
The structure was controversially removed and taken to the nearby Lynn Museum following its excavation in 1999
Archaeologists say the ring was built during a period of extreme cold and was designed to mimic the 'bowers of the underworld' where the cuckoo, associated with summer, would supposedly flee in winter
Researchers also found a second wooden circle, called Holme II, built beside it - making these the only known British monuments erected together.

The structures had been buried beneath the salt marsh near the beach for thousands of years before they were finally exposed by erosion.

Despite what its final location might suggest, 'Seahenge' is actually something of a misnomer since the circles would not have been near the water.

Over thousands of years, the swamp turned into a thick layer of peat which preserved the wooded posts in remarkably good condition.

Yet, much like Stonehenge, little is known about why this structure was built or what role it might have played in people's lives.

Since almost nothing survives of the people who built Seahenge, it is extremely difficult for archaeologists to find concrete evidence about their use.

Comment: Stonehenge has been found to have been built with difficult to source materials, in a way that engineers today find challenging. Moreover, the structure and the rocks have also been found it may have qualities, including sound resonance and piezo-electric properties, that may relate to its purpose.

Taken together, it seems to reveal a sophistication, and an effort, that demands more than the standard explanation that primitive early farmers were simply marking time. The structures may also be older than commonly assumed.

Note also that there are a variety of other markers and monuments nearby stonehenge, including a 'cuckoo stone', and a woodhenge:
Woodhenge is a Neolithic timber monument built in about 2500 BC, around the same time as Stonehenge, and only 2 miles away to the north-east. It was formed of six concentric ovals of standing posts, surrounded by a bank and ditch, which were built to align with the summer solstice sunrise.

To try and bridge that 4,000-year gap, Dr Nance combined the archaeology of the site with astronomical predictions, environmental data, and local folklore.

Previous studies have suggested that the structures were built to commemorate the death of individuals or to conduct sky burials in which the dead would be placed in the circle to be consumed by carrion-eating birds.

However, Dr Nance's research suggests that these structures may have been built in an attempt to prolong summer.

He explains: 'We know that the period in which they were constructed 4,000 years ago was a prolonged period of decreased atmospheric temperatures and severe winters and late springs placing these early coastal societies under stress.

'It seems most likely that these monuments had the common intention to end this existential threat but they had different functions.'

Dr Nance points to Seahenge's structure as evidence that it might have been used as part of a ritual related to the 'myth of the pent cuckoo'.

Surviving folklore from the area tells of how an unfledged cuckoo was placed in a thorn bush and 'walled in' to extend the summer.

'Summer solstice was the date when according to folklore the cuckoo, symbolising fertility, traditionally stopped singing, returned to the Otherworld and the summer went with it,' Dr Nance explains.
seahenge pagan celtic
Holme II might have been the resting place for 'sacred kings' sacrificed to the pagan goddess of Venus (pictured) who was often associated with the cuckoo, as shown in this plate constructed between the first centuries BC and AD
'Dating of the Seahenge timbers showed they were felled in the spring, and it was considered most probable that these timbers were aligned with sunrise on the summer solstice.'

In his paper, published in Geojournal, Dr Nance suggests that the shape of Seahenge is designed to mimic that ritual penning of the cuckoo.

Holme II, which was likely to have been built in the autumn of the same year, may have been trying to achieve the same goal through a different technique.

The second circle is twice the size of Seahenge at 43ft (13.2 m) across and is made of an outer ring of oak posts surrounding two large coffin-like timbers.
Holme II (illustrated) is even larger than Seahenge and would have been aligned with the sunrise on Samhain, the pagan festival from which we get Halloween, in 2049 BC
Seahenge's construction aligns with the sun on the Summer solstice, suggesting it may have had a ritual purpose
While Seahenge aligns the summer solstice, astrological predictions suggest that in 2049 BC, this circle would have aligned with the sunrise on Samhain - the pagan festival from which we get Halloween.

Comment: Bearing in mind that the dating may be off, if it isn't, then perhaps the myth of the cuckoo was a creative way of encoding knowledge of something else? Witches, Comets and Planetary Cataclysms

This date is particularly important because on this year Venus would have been visible in the sky.

Dr Nance says this could be a connection to the legend of the 'sacred king' which is recorded in Iron Age Ireland and Northern Britain.

These were members of the community who would be sacrificed in an attempt to appease the goddess of Venus.

He adds: 'Evidence suggests that they were ritually-sacrificed every eight years at Samhain (now Halloween) coincident with the eight-year cycle of Venus.'

If true, the coffin-shaped timbers could have been used to hold the bodies of those sacrificed to try and put an end to the short summers and long winters.