The Secrets Beneath Stonehenge
Believed to have been built at some point between 3000BC and 2000BC (making it more than 4,000 years old!), Stonehenge is one of the most famous sites in the world. And yet, such mystery surrounds not only how it got there, but also why it was built there.
And now that mystery has deepened even further since a first-of-its-kind study has found 15 further monuments beneath Stonehenge that have either had their meaning poorly understood or they simply hadn’t been discovered before.
The four-year study, known as The Stonehenge Hidden Landscape Project, is a collaboration between archaeological institutes from the Universities of Bradford, Birmingham and St Andrew in the UK, the University of Vienna, the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology and ZAMG-Archeo Prospections in Austria.
To study the ground beneath Stonehenge, a variety of techniques such as 3D laser scanning and ground-penetrating radar were used to create a subsurface map of the area in high detail. These technologies are used because they are much less destructive that most exploratory techniques, especially traditional digging-based methods.
One of the new finds is an ancient channel, or trough. This trough bisects a cursus, which is made up of parallel lengths of banks with a ditch on the outside. “Cursus” is Latin for “course”, and so-named because of the resemblance to an athletic course. It is believed that this particular cursus – which runs horizontally from east to west – aligns with the equinox sunrises in spring and autumn and that the trough was used a processional route for people to make their way to the centre of Stonehenge in the south.
The team has said that the discovery of the 15 “new” monuments have helped them see Stonehenge’s landscape in a different way, transforming how they view the area.
However – “until you dig holes, you just don’t know what you’ve got,” said Professor Vince Gaffney, a University of Birmingham archaeologist. This means that although the original purpose of the prehistoric monument is still unknown, adding the newly discovered monuments to Stonehenge might provide more of an idea behind what it was used for.
Professor Gaffney believes the new monuments indicate that the World Heritage Site was not the isolated stone circle we once thought, but rather than there was a lot of nearby human activity, with regular visits to the famous site.
“This is among the most important landscapes, and probably the most studied landscape in the world,” Professor Gaffney said. “The area has been absolutely transformed by this survey. It won’t be the same again.”