In Brief

Archeologists Use Digital Underground Mapping to Discover the Landscape of Stonehenge

Stonehenge (photo by Channone Arif/Flickr)
Stonehenge (photo by Channone Arif/Flickr)

A massive experiment in virtual archeology has led to the mapping of 3,000 acres around Stonehenge, and with it the discovery of a host of new information about the area, including over a dozen previously unknown monuments, National Geographic reported. The Stonehenge Hidden Landscape Project, led by researchers at the University of Birmingham and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute in Austria, has spent four years using an array of technology — aerial photography, laser scanning, airborne imaging spectroscopy, magnetic prospection, ground-penetrating radar, electromagnetic induction, and more — to uncover the landscape around Stonehenge without actually unearthing it.

Magnetograms of the monuments hidden in the Stonehenge landscape (via lbi-archpro.org) (click to enlarge)
Magnetic data images of newly discovered monuments around Stonehenge (© LBI ArchPro, Mario Wallner) (click to enlarge)

What they found is, in the words of National Geographic, “an astonishing complex of ancient monuments, buildings, and barrows.” The complex includes 17 newly discovered ritual monuments “dating to the period when Stonehenge achieved its iconic shape“; dozens of burial mounds that have been mapped in great detail; and massive prehistoric pits that could be aligned astronomically. National Geographic elaborates on one aspect of the discovery’s significance:

The small circular constructions, contemporaneous with Stonehenge’s busiest period, are placed around the main stone ring and form a sort of Neolithic analogue to the Via Dolorosa, held to be the path Jesus walked to crucifixion, [lead scientist Vince] Gaffney suggests.

“What we could be witnessing here is the birth of the idea of ceremonial procession, or a liturgy,” he says.

Distribution map of new monuments discovered around Stonehenge (© LBI ArchPro, Wolfgang Neubauer)
Distribution map of new monuments discovered around Stonehenge (© LBI ArchPro, Wolfgang Neubauer)

The Stonehenge Hidden Landscape Project is apparently as the largest project of its kind, and obviously one with big implications, both for the study of Stonehenge itself and for the field of archeology. It’s worth noting, though, that sometimes a lack of technology can lead to discoveries too: just last week, it was reported that Stonehenge’s custodians might have solved the mystery of the monument’s shape thanks a hosepipe that ran too short.

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