An archaeological excavation has revealed that human beings occupied Stonehenge in 7,500BC not in 2,500BC, as was previously believed, but Malta’s prehistoric temples remain the oldest in the world.

In a BBC programme, Flying Archaeologist, last night, Peter Rowley-Conwy, from Durham University, said: “Stonehenge has the potential to become one of the most important Mesolithic sites in northwestern Europe.”

The people living at that time would have been the ancestors of those who subsequently built the Stonehenge stone circle

The discovery, a mile away from the world renowned stone circle, reveals evidence of the community that put up the “first” monument at Stonehenge. Carbon dating of material found on site show people were there from 7,500 to 4,700 BC.

Anthony Bonanno, an archaeology professor at the University of Malta, said it was “highly interesting” that landscape archaeology revealed evidence of a community dating so far back.

“The people living at that time would have been the ancestors of the people who subsequently built the Stonehenge stone circle around 2,500BC.”

The archaeological dig, led by Open University archaeologist David Jacques, took place a mile from the Stonehenge stones in an area that was termed as an “archaeological blind spot” because it had never been noticed before. “This archaeological excavation is referring to a settlement that is as far from Stonehenge as Ħaġar Qim is from Qrendi,” explained Prof. Bonanno.

This means that the Maltese free standing monuments dating back to about 3,500 BC are still the oldest in the world.

Prof. Bonanno pointed out that, so far, there is no evidence anywhere in the world of earlier free-standing monuments, the oldest being at Ta’ Haġrat in Mġarr, with Ġgantija in Gozo the first of the larger monuments.

Prof. Bonanno said the Stonehenge exercise should “encourage us to concentrate” more on landscape archaeology and the areas surrounding the temples.

He said the University of Malta had an ongoing project in conjunction with Bournemouth University.

“We are trying to do something similar to this Stonehenge dig. We are studying the areas in the vicinity of the megalithic monument in Skorba, Mġarr.”

The earliest evidence of human activity in Malta dates back to about 5,000BC in Skorba, where evidence of a Neolithic village – including a hut and a wall – dating back to 5,000 to 4,000BC has been unearthed.

Nicholas Vella, head of the University’s Department of Archaeology, said the carbon dating process that took place during the recent excavation in the Stonehenge area dated the “early activity”.

“It’s showing that that area was settled a long time before but no one built any free-standing monuments until thousands of years later,” Dr Vella said, adding that the Stonehenge of the earliest communities was not the Stonehenge we saw today.

Dr Vella said Malta could still hold on to “our claim to fame” that its free-standing monuments were the oldest in the world.