A 7,000-year-old structure near Prague is older than the Egyptian pyramids

Archaeologists digging near Prague have uncovered the remains of a Stone Age structure older than Stonehenge and even the Egyptian pyramids: an enigmatic complex known as the Roundel.

Nearly 7,000 years ago, during the late Neolithic, or New Stone Age, a local farming community may have gathered in this circular building, although its true purpose is unknown.

The excavated roundel is large – about 55 meters in diameter, about as long as the Leaning Tower of Pisa is tall. And although “it is too early to say anything about the people who constructed this roundel”, it is clear that they were part of the Caressed Pottery culture, which flourished between 4900 BC and 4400 BC. BC, Jaroslav Řídký, spokesman for the Institute of Archeology of the Czech Academy of Sciences (IAP) and an expert on roundels from the Czech Republic, told Live Science in an email.

Miroslav Kraus, director of the roundel excavations in the Vinoř district on behalf of the IAP, said that revealing the structure could give them a clue about the use of the building.

Researchers discovered the existence of the Vinoř Roundel in the 1980s, when construction workers were laying gas and water pipes, but ongoing excavations have revealed the entire structure for the first time. So far, his team has recovered pottery fragments, animal bones and stone tools from the embankment of the ditch, according to Řídký.

Carbon dating of organic remains from this roundel excavation could help the team determine the structure’s construction date and possibly link it to a Neolithic settlement discovered nearby.

The people who made the Stroked Pottery tableware are known to have made other roundels in the Bohemian region of the Czech Republic, Řídký said.

Their settled farming villages – located at the intersection of contemporary Poland, East Germany and the northern Czech Republic – consisted of several longhouses, which were large rectangular structures that could each accommodate 20 to 30 people. But the “knowledge of roundel construction has crossed the boundaries of several archaeological cultures”, noted Řídký. “Different communities have built roundels across central Europe.”

Archaeologists working on the excavation of the Stone Age roundel. (Image credit: Institute of Archeology of the Czech Academy of Sciences)

Roundels were not well-known ancient items until a few decades ago when aerial and drone photography became a key part of the archaeological toolkit. But now archaeologists know that “roundels are the oldest architectural evidence in all of Europe,” Řídký said.

Seen from above, the roundels consist of one or more wide circular ditches with several spaces that served as entrances. The inner part of each roundel was probably lined with wooden posts, possibly with mud covering the gaps.

Hundreds of these circular earthworks have been found throughout central Europe, but they all date to a span of only two or three centuries. While their popularity at the end of the Neolithic is clear, their function is still in question.

A trench wall revealing the stratigraphy (different layers) of the excavation. (Image credit: Institute of Archeology of the Czech Academy of Sciences)

Berta D. Wells