Archaeological researchers in England have discovered evidence of new hidden monuments near the prehistoric site of Stonehenge, the ancient Briton site built sometime between 3,000 and 1,600 BC, raising new possibilities about what the monument may have been used for. Joel Flynn reports.
It's one of the most iconic archaeological monuments in the world - a World Heritage Site that predates modern civilisation itself. But what we know about Stonehenge is remarkably sketchy. Scholars reckon it could be a temple, a burial ground, an astronomical calendar, or all three. But new research by British archaeologists indicates the megalith construction is part of a much bigger series of ancient buildings. Professor Vince Gaffney helped lead the research into the underground monuments. SOUNDBITE: University of Birmingham Chair in Landscape Archaeology and Geomatics, Professor Vince Gaffney, saying (English): "Some of these are absolutely remarkable; we found about 17 new late-neolithic monuments - monuments of the period of the great phases of Stonehenge and monuments which are like Stonehenge, smaller in scale perhaps but nonetheless intimately linked with the stones themselves and representing what must have been smaller ritual shrines or something of that sort." As part of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project, researchers used cutting edge technology to scan the ground beneath the site. Magnetometers, ground penetrators, electromagnetic induction equipment, and resistance instruments were all married with GPS technology. That helped them cover 12 square kilometres, at a depth of up to three metres. Previously that would have been unthinkable, but advances in technology and methodology mean understanding such vast data is now possible. Dr Henry Chapman is a lecturer in Archaeology and Remote Sensing at the University of Birmingham. SOUNDBITE: University of Birmingham Senior Lecturer in Archaeology and Remote Sensing, Dr Henry Chapman, saying (English): "The ability to start doing things, rather than just doing one data set and then looking at that, we can start combining data sets and start fusing them - we call it data fusion. So being able to deal with large data sets and being able to combine data sets, there are many, many little revolutions going on in technology in archaeology at the moment." Stonehenge still has the aura to inspire even the most powerful people in the world - Barack Obama marvelled when given a recent personal tour. But the new discovery of what else was here when Stonehenge was first constructed could also allow experts to rewrite history.