Each one measured about 5m (16ft) square, was made of timber,
with a clay floor and central hearth. The archaeologists found
4,600-year-old rubbish covering the floors of the houses.
"It is the richest - by that I mean the filthiest - site of this
period known in Britain," Professor Parker Pearson said.
"We've never seen such quantities of pottery and animal bone and
The Sheffield University researcher thinks the settlement was
probably not lived in all year round. Instead, he believes,
Stonehenge and Durrington formed a religious complex used for
He believes it drew Neolithic people from all over the region,
who came for massive feasts in the midwinter, where prodigious
quantities of food were consumed. The bones were then tossed on the
floors of the houses.
"The rubbish isn't your average domestic debris. There's a lack
of craft-working equipment for cleaning animal hides and no evidence
for crop-processing," he said.
"The animal bones are being thrown away half-eaten. It's what we
call a feasting assemblage. This is where they went to party - you
could say it was the first free festival."
Durrington has its own henge made of wood, which is strikingly
similar in layout to Stonehenge. It was discovered in 1967 - long
before any houses.
Both henges line up with events in the astronomical calendar -
but not the same ones.
Stonehenge is aligned with the midwinter solstice sunset, while
Durrington's timber circle is aligned with the midwinter solstice
sunrise - they were complementary.
This seems to fit with the idea of a midwinter festival, in turn
supported by analysis of pig teeth found at the site.
"One of the things we can tell from the pig teeth we've looked
at is that most of them have been slaughtered at nine months. And we
think they are farrowing in Spring," he said.
"It's likely there's a midwinter cull and that ties in with our
midwinter solstice alignments at Durrington and Stonehenge."
Professor Parker Pearson believes Durrington's purpose was to
celebrate life and deposit the dead in the river for transport to
the afterlife. Stonehenge was a memorial and final resting place for
some of the dead.
After feasting, he speculated, people travelled down the timber
circle's "avenue" to deposit their dead in the River Avon flowing
towards Stonehenge. They then moved along Stonehenge's avenue to the
circle, where they cremated and buried a select few of their dead.