Researchers have produced digital maps of 17 previously unknown ritual monuments and a huge timber building, underneath World Heritage Site of Stonehenge. Dozens of burial mounds have been mapped in minute detail, including a long barrow (a burial mound dating to before Stonehenge) which revealed a massive timber building, probably used for the ritual inhumation of the dead following a complicated sequence of exposure and excarnation (defleshing), and which was finally covered by an earthen mound.

The research team was led by the University of Birmingham, in conjunction with the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology, and used ground-penetrating radar, high-resolution magnetometers and other techniques to peer deep into the soil beneath the famous stone circle. The universities of Nottingham, Bradford and St. Andrews in the U.K., and the University of Ghent in Belgium were also involved in the project.

“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,” said British project leader Professor Vincent Gaffney, Chair in Landscape Archaeology and Geomatics at the University of Birmingham.

The 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.

The researches also discovered evidence of up to 60 huge pillars within the mile-wide site at nearby Durrington Walls, and a wooden burial house 3,000 years older than Stonehenge. Archaeologists and others have been digging and theorizing at Stonehenge since the 1620s. The monument, 85 miles (140 kilometers) southwest of London, attracts more than 1.2 million visitors a year.

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