Two of the eight Stone Age buildings uncovered near Stonehenge were set apart from the main settlement, surrounded by a timber fence and a substantial ditch.
The sites of the two housesone of which is pictured abovewere discovered by Julian Thomas of Manchester University, who says there is evidence for three or four other, similar structures nearby.
The excavation team speculates that these imposing buildings may have been the dwellings of chiefs or priests who lived separately from the rest of the community. Another theory is that the buildings were uninhabited and used only for rituals, because the dig team found no traces of household items inside them.
"They may have been more like shrines or cult houses" where people went to invoke the spirits of ancestors, Thomas said, "or to conduct negotiations of some kind or to have out-of-body or trance experiences."