Archaeologists have unveiled the most detailed map ever produced of the earth beneath Stonehenge and its surrounds.

They combined different instruments to scan the area to a depth of three metres, with unprecedented resolution.

Early results suggest that the iconic monument did not stand alone, but was accompanied by 17 neighbouring shrines.

Future, detailed analysis of this vast collection of data will produce a brand new account of how Stonehenge’s landscape evolved over time.

Among the surprises yielded by the research are traces of up to 60 huge stones or pillars which formed part of the 1.5km-wide “super henge” previously identified at nearby Durrington Walls.

“For the past four years we have been looking at this amazing monument to try and see what was around it,” Prof Vincent Gaffney, from the University of Birmingham, said at the British Science Festival.

The research is also described in BBC Two documentary to be screened on Thursday.

“What was within its landscape?”

Most of the land surrounding Stonehenge had not been surveyed in this manner before and Prof Gaffney, the project’s lead researcher, said one key question always remained: “Was it really an excluded place, where only special people would come?”

The team’s new three-dimensional map, which covers an area of 12 sq km or 1,250 football fields, shows that this was not the case.

The team combined different instruments to scan the area with unprecedented resolution

Researchers used six different techniques to scan the whole site at different depths below the surface.

Amongst their instruments was a magnetometer, a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and a 3D laser scanner.

Nishad Karim, a researcher at the University of Leicester, has used similar instrumentation to reconstruct 16th century Tudor tombs.

She told the BBC: “Using GPR and other techniques, these researchers have been able to virtually see through the ground and explore what civilization looked like thousands of years ago.”

Under one of the numerous mounds, they identified a 33m-long timber building about 6,000 years old, probably used for ritual burials and related practices, possibly including excarnation (stripping flesh from bones).

“[The building] has three rows of roof-bearing posts. It is around 300 square metres and slightly trapezoidal, which is interesting because in the same period on the continent, about 100 to 200 years earlier, we also find this type of trapezoidal building related to megaliths [giant stones],” said Prof Wolfgang Neubauer, director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute, which was also involved in the research.

Another 17 mounds revealed previously unseen ritual monuments about the same age as Stonehenge itself.

Source: BBCNews Read and see more

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