West Norfolk has once again shown to be an archaeological treasure trove after a second timber circle discovered on its shores was directly linked with Seahenge.
Scientists have revealed the results of tests which have dated another wooden structure found at Holme to the summer of 2049 BC.
That is the same year as the timber used to build the iconic Seahenge circle, heralded as one of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century when found at Holme in 1998.
It is thought the two 4,000-year-old rings were built from the same tree, and almost certainly by the same people.
The revelation has led archaeologists to again question why ancient people built the mysterious oak circles – and it is thought they could have been a burial place for Bronze Age leaders.
David Robertson, historic environment officer with Norfolk County Council, said: “The felling date on them is the spring or early summer of 2049 BC. Those trees were felled at exactly the same time. Having one was fantastic – and having two just adds to the story.”
Mr Robertson, who ran the tree ring dating project on Seahenge’s sister circle, said: “We have to try to understand not just why they were built, but what they were used for.”
One theory is that the upturned stump of Seahenge was the final resting place of an important person after their death, where his or her body would be allowed to break down in the open air, symbolising their passing to another world.
The second circle could have been the actual burial place, possibly all that remains of a burial mound, where the wooden posts acted as a revetment into which soil was placed on top of the body.
The two prehistoric circles were discovered at the same time in 1998, but unlike Seahenge, the second structure was never excavated and left intact, exposed to the sea and weather elements.
Since then, its erosion has been closely monitored and recorded and the tree dating, or dendrochronology, tests were carried out last summer before it was lost forever.
Seahenge, named after Stonehenge in Wiltshire, was dug up by scientists to be preserved and is now on display at Lynn Museum.
Its removal caused a tide of controversy, with protesters clashing with archeologists as the 55 posts and central stump were taken away.
Mr Robertson said it would not be in the public interest to dig up the second structure, and will be left alone for nature to take its course.
He said: “There was a lot of opposition from individuals and public groups when we excavated Seahenge so we have taken those views on board by not excavating the second one. Holme is also an incredibly important wildlife habitat, both in the UK and nationally, and doing an excavation would damage that habitat.
“Public interest from any archaeological work would also cause damage, so the decision was taken with the Norfolk Wildlife Trust not to excavate.”
He said there had been a lot of erosion to the second circle in the 15 years since Seahenge was removed, with the first central log being dislodged and lost to sea in October 2003, and the second in March 2004.
“It is sad that eventually we will lose it altogether, which is why the work we have carried out is so important.”
Toby Coke, chairman of the county council’s environment committee, said: “I never cease to be amazed at the wealth of archaeology and heritage that we have in Norfolk. This is an intriguing project that has been painstakingly carried out by the council’s in-house experts. It will leave us with a wealth of information and very good records about how our ancestors lived in times long past.”