London: For the first time, remains of two large 6000-year-old halls, each buried within a prehistoric burial mound, have been unearthed in UK.
The sensational finds on Dorstone Hill, near Peterchurch in Herefordshire, were thought to be constructed between 4000 and 3600 BC, researchers said.
Some of the burnt wood discovered at the site shows the character of the building's structure above ground level.
The buildings, probably used by entire communities, are of unknown size, but may have been of similar length to the Neolithic long barrows beneath which they were found - 70 metres and 30m long.
Researchers said they were deliberately burnt down after they were constructed and their remains incorporated into the two burial mounds.
However, much detail has been preserved in the larger barrow: structural timbers in carbonised form, postholes showing the positions of uprights, and the burnt remains of stakes forming internal partitions.
The core of each mound is composed of intensely burnt clay, representing the daub from the walls of the buildings.
The buildings were likely to have been long structures with aisles, framed by upright posts, and with internal partitions, researchers said.
The smaller barrow contains a 7m by 2.5m mortuary chamber, with huge sockets which would have held upright tree trunks at each end.
These massive posts bracketed a linear 'trough' lined with planks, which would have held the remains of the dead.
"This find is of huge significance to our understanding of prehistoric life- so we're absolutely delight. It makes a link between the house and a tomb more forcefully than any other investigation that has been ever carried out," said Julian Thomas from The University of Manchester.
"These early Neolithic halls are already extremely rare, but to find them within a long barrow is the discovery of a lifetime," said Thomas.
Archaeologists have long speculated that a close relationship existed between houses and tombs in Neolithic Europe, and that 'houses of the dead' amounted to representations of the 'houses of the living'.
In addition to the two long mounds, the site has provided evidence for a series of later burials and other deliberate deposits, including a cremation burial and a pit containing a flint axe and a finely-flaked flint knife.
The objects have close affinities with artefacts found in eastern Yorkshire in the Late Neolithic (2600 BC).