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Cricket in Stonehenge? Well, well Getty Images

Most accounts of the history of cricket agree that the earliest definitive reference to the game dates to 1597, when in a court case concerning a piece of land in Guildford, the local coroner, John Derrick, testified that he and his friends had played creckett on the land during their schooldays, around 50 years earlier.

Another document, predating that by almost three centuries, refers to Prince Edward (later King Edward II) playing creag , but it is uncertain whether this was a form of cricket or some other sport. The oldest surviving bat dates from 1729, and is kept at The Oval s museum.

A discovery at an archaeological dig in Wiltshire, however, may force historians to revise this commonly told version of the game s origins.

Paolo Flir, the chief archaeologist supervising the dig, recounted his excitement as the objects were uncovered: Peat bogs often yield a wider range of artefacts than other sites because the chemicals in the soil preserve organic matter, such as the bog bodies which have been discovered across northern Europe. Here we found a section of tree trunk, about ten metres long, which had been split in half. Carbon dating told us that it had been cut in around 3000 BC. Usually we would have assumed such an object was part of a boat or building, but this one had been cut narrower at one end to form a handle. It was designed to be held, although it would have taken a giant to do so. Impressions in the wood at the opposite end to the handle suggested it had repeatedly been used to hit a hard object it was some sort of club.

At first we thought it might have been used in hunting, but when we dug further we found another object a stone, about a metre in diameter, worn into almost a perfect sphere. One side of the stone still showed some traces of shine, but the other was badly scratched. We had clear evidence that this was an ancient cricket bat and ball, and the giants who played with them had even invented reverse swing.

This site is, of course, very close to Stonehenge. There have been many theories as to the purpose of the stones whether they were a temple or some form of astronomical calendar. Our discovery finally solves the mystery they were giant stumps. Unfortunately the players left no record of the rules of the game as they played it, so we can only guess why they were arranged in a circle. Perhaps there were several batsmen in at the same time, and the same player bowled to each of them in turn.

Ancient legends abound with tales of giants, which have usually been dismissed by modern historians as no more than the products of the fertile imaginations of the storytellers of past civilisations, but which must surely now be reconsidered in the light of this new evidence of prehistoric cricketing giants. No giant bodies were preserved in the bog, but the large quantities of ashes found at the site show that this race customarily cremated their dead. However, analysis of one large pot of ashes showed that they are not humanoid remains, but wood. Archaeologists speculate that it may have been a trophy.

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