View of the reconstructed Stone Age circular enclosure near Poemmelte

Concentric circles of posts and ditches at Pömmelte, Germany, are part of a reconstruction of a prehistoric ritual site. Credit: Jens Wolf/picture alliance/dpa

Archaeology

Mystery of buried children at German ‘Stonehenge’

Scientists scrutinize monumental complex of ditches and posts built more than 4,000 years ago.

As prehistoric Britons gathered at Stonehenge, people living in what is now Germany were erecting their own grand monument: a complex of nested circular ditches, pits and rows of posts, interspersed with the remains of women and children, who might have been human sacrifices.

André Spatzier at the State Office for Cultural Heritage Baden-Württemberg in Esslingen, Germany, and François Bertemes at Martin Luther University Halle, also in Germany, analysed the concentric structures at the German site of Pömmelte, which dates to as early as 2320 bc. The site is dotted with 29 shafts containing objects such as shattered jugs. The shafts also contain skeletons, some of them mutilated, of women and children.

The authors say that Pömmelte’s ritual objects, alignment with the Sun’s path and grand scale suggest it was intended as a religious centre and was devoted, in part, to a cult of the dead.