Stonehenge stones

Archaeologists have discovered 17 previously unknown monuments around Stonehenge, plus remarkable new findings at the world’s largest ‘Superhenge’.

Stonehenge did not stand in ‘splendid isolation’, but was surrounded by chapels, huge pits and burial mounds, an unprecedented new survey has revealed.

Researchers, led by the University of Birmingham in conjunction with the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology, used remote sensing techniques and geophysical surveys to produce a radical new underground map of the landscape around Stonehenge.

“In the past, we had this idea that Stonehenge was standing in splendid isolation, but it wasn’t…” Vince Gaffney, head of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project at Birmingham University, told the Guardian. “This radically changes our view of Stonehenge” said Gaffney.

17 new monuments and a couple of bizarre burial practices

The survey has revealed at least 17 previously unknown ritual monuments, including dozens of burial mounds. One of the most impressive was a 33m long barrow containing a massive timber building.

Predating Stonehenge, the team thinks it was probably used for the ritual inhumation of the dead following a complicated sequence of exposure and excarnation (defleshing), before finally being covered by an earthen mound.

long barrow

The long barrow, which pre-dates Stonehenge, as it would have been seen. Image: University of Birmingham/The Stonehenge Hidden Landscape Project

 

Previously unknown types of monuments

Work also revealed novel types of monument including massive prehistoric pits, some of which appear to form astronomic alignments, plus new information on hundreds of burial mounds, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman settlements and fields at a level of detail never previously seen.

Taken together, these results are transforming the view that archaeologists have of a landscape that was reshaped by generations over a period of 11,000 years.

stonehenge-new-monuments-mag-2

Survey results showing the newly discovered monuments. Image: University of Birmingham/The Stonehenge Hidden Landscape Project

Earlier phase discovered at nearby ‘Superhenge’

The project has also revealed new information on Durrington Walls, a nearby ‘super henge’. This immense monument has a circumference of more than 1.5 kilometers (0.93 miles) and is thought to be the largest of its type in the world.

Research revealed an early phase when the monument was flanked with a row of up to 60 massive posts or stones, perhaps up to three metres high – some of which may still survive beneath the massive banks surrounding the monument.

A map showing the location of the newly discovered monuments around Stonehenge. Photograph: Geert Verhoeven/University of Bi/PA

A map showing the location of the newly discovered monuments around Stonehenge. Photograph: Geert Verhoeven/University of Bi/PA


A radical new understanding of Stonehenge

‘Despite Stonehenge being the most iconic of all prehistoric monuments and occupying one of the richest archaeological landscapes in the world, much of this landscape in effect remains terra incognita’ said Gaffney.

‘This project has revealed that the area around Stonehenge is teeming with previously unseen archaeology and that the application of new technology can transform how archaeologists and the wider public understand one of the best-studied landscapes on Earth.

‘New monuments have been revealed, as well as new types of monument that have previously never been seen by archaeologists. All of this information has been placed within a single digital map, which will guide how Stonehenge and its landscape are studied in the future’.

Looks like Stonehenge will never be seen the same way again.

Operation Stonehenge: What Lies Beneath is due to be broadcast on BBC Two at 20:00 BST on Thursday 11 September. The documentary will also be broadcast in the US (Smithsonian Channel), Canada (CBC), Austria (ORF), Germany (ZDF) and France (France 5).

Source: University of Birmingham

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Maiya Pina-Dacier

Head of Community at DigVentures, Maiya digs with a trowel in one hand, and a Twitter feed in the other. She reports on all our discoveries live from the trenches, and keeps our Site Hut full of the latest archaeology news. Got a story? Just drop her a line...

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