British archaeologists say they've unearthed two 6,000-year-old Neolithic "halls of the dead" in the Herefordshire countryside.
Researchers from the University of Manchester and Herefordshire Council made the find on Dorstone Hill, near Peterchurch, where the remains of the halls were found within prehistoric burial mounds, a university release reported Tuesday.
The timber buildings may have been "halls of the dead" similar to others from the Neolithic period found in Europe, where bodies would have been placed before being moved to nearby chambered tombs, the archaeologists said.
The buildings, probably used by entire communities, were deliberately burnt down after they were constructed and their remains incorporated into the two burial mounds, they said.
The researchers said they've uncovered structural timbers in carbonized form, post holes showing the positions of uprights, and the burnt remains of stakes forming internal partitions.
"The mound tells us quite a bit about the people who built it: they sought to memorialize the idea of their community represented by the dwelling," Manchester archaeology Professor Julian Thomas said.
"And by turning it into part of the landscape, it becomes a permanent reminder for generations to come."
"Just think of how the burning of the hall could have been seen for miles around, in the large expanse of what is now the border country between England and Wales," he said.
Archaeologists have long speculated a close relationship existed between houses and tombs in Neolithic Europe, and that "houses of the dead" amounted to symbolic representations of the "houses of the living."
"This find is of huge significance to our understanding of prehistoric life -- so we're absolutely delighted," Thomas said.