Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England, has been shrouded in mystery for centuries. The lack of written records have spawned a number of colorful legends surrounding their creators. They range from the Celts, Druids, and Romans, even King Arthur in between his acts of derring-do when not at home by the Round Table.
Researchers have discovered burial mounds surrounding the site, complete with an enormous ‘house of the dead,’ ritual shrines, massive pits, a possible processional route around Stonehenge, and as many as 17 chapels. The enigmatic Neolithic stones seem to be just the tip of an enormous iceberg.
According to Vince Gaffney, head of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project at Birmingham University: “The project has revealed that the area around Stonehenge is teeming with previously unseen archaeology … In the past we had this idea that Stonehenge was standing in splendid isolation, but it wasn’t … it’s absolutely huge.”
The Stonehenge Cursuses refers to two-mile long, parallel ditches that are considered Britain’s oldest prehistoric structures. Their purpose is not known but scientists believe they served as processional paths that follow astronomical alignments.
After four years of research and surveying 12 square kilometers (almost 3,000 acres) of surrounding landscape, high tech tools of the trade brought about the discovery of hundreds of archaeological features; making this the largest and most ambitious undertaking of its kind anywhere in the world.
Quad bikes hooked up to trailers transported ground-penetrating radar and mapping equipment such as laser scanners and magnetometers, which Viennese engineers developed at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute. They mapped the area down to about 10 feet below the surface. Unusually dry weather aided exploration, revealing telltale patches in the soil indicating the source of where stones – now missing – once stood.
It is the spatial relationship these newly discovered structures have to Stonehenge that render them of utmost archaeological significance. Traces of a mysterious festival were revealed in the form of beer pots strewn around the site.
Perhaps most impressive among the structures was a 33-meter (more than 108 feet) long burial mound with a massive wooden building supported by timber foundations. Wolfgang Neuber of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute believes this structure predates Stonehenge and might have been a “house of the dead with bizarre burial rituals the exposure of dead bodies and de-fleshing on a large forecourt.”
As exciting and wondrous as this new find is, it brings with it more questions than answers. Stonehenge is a conundrum of enormous proportions, a baffling tribute to an ancient realm neither understood nor remembered.
Modern technology in the form of high tech remote sensing and underground mapping has opened new and exciting doors both to the meaning of Stonehenge and the way archaeology is conducted.The high-resolution 3-D underground map created by this project will serve as a guide for future studies of the landscape.
Here’s to Stonehenge, a view into another world long faded into the mists of time.
What other unsolved mysteries of the ancient world do you think modern technology can attempt to unravel.