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Ancient WorldsAncient Worlds

Stonehenge Was Merely the Focal Point of a Bigger Monument Site

ByAllison EckNOVA NextNOVA Next
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A team of researchers has debunked the long-held presumption that Stonehenge stood in stark solitude.

There’s more to Stonehenge than we’d ever imagined. A team of researchers, working together under the “Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project” at Birmingham University in the U.K., has debunked the long-held presumption that Stonehenge stood in stark solitude. Instead, it was merely the centerpiece—the focal point—of highly complex system of ritual monuments. The team’s survey of the Stonehenge’s grounds reveals 17 new chapels as well as hundreds of other archaeological features that probably bustled with activity thousands of years ago.

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Vince Gaffney, head of the project, and his team spent four years scrutinizing the landscape with magnetometers, radar, and other tools that could help detect buried structures. Their results indicate that these peripheral sites were intimately connected with Stonehenge, coming together to form an almost kaleidoscopic ceremonial experience.

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Here’s Sumit Paul-Choudhury, writing for New Scientist:

For example, the survey revealed two 5-metre pits that form a gigantic triangle with Stonehenge. A person walking the paths between them would have experienced a spectacular succession of sights as different natural and artificial features of the landscape were alternately concealed and revealed, says Gaffney.

In addition to the ancient beer pots they found scattered among the remains, Gaffney’s crew also uncovered a burial mound built between 5,000 and 4,000 years ago—older than Stonehenge itself. It seems to have been constructed on top of what was once a 6,000-year-old, trapezoidal timber building—a “house of the dead”—where sacrificed bodies were discarded. Other elements of the archaeological findings have been documented for the first time in a digital map.

Here’s Ian Sample, writing for The Guardian:

They located two massive pits in a 3km-long monument called the Cursus that predates Stonehenge and lies to the north. The pits appear to form astronomical alignments, Gaffney said. On midsummer’s day the eastern pit’s alignment with the rising sun, and the western pit’s alignment at sunset, intersect at the point where Stonehenge was built 400 years later.

The team plans to place individuals into a simulation of the landscape to see how different paths would have emerged and how the Stonehenge site as a whole would have been experienced by people at the time.

Watch "Secrets of Stonehenge" streaming online to learn more about this ancient monument.