100 Great Geosites / Events / Science communication

British Science Festival 2014: Operation Stonehenge

Part of the LBI ArchPro survey team at Stonehenge (from left: Nico Neubauer, Thomas Zitz, Wolfgang Neubauer, Klaus Löcker, Erich Nau, Immo Trinks).© LBI ArchPro, Geert Verhoeven

Part of the LBI ArchPro survey team at Stonehenge (from left: Nico Neubauer, Thomas Zitz, Wolfgang Neubauer, Klaus Löcker, Erich Nau, Immo Trinks).© LBI ArchPro, Geert Verhoeven

One of our nominated 100geosites took centre stage yesterday at the British Science Festival, as Professor Vincent Gaffney and colleagues unveiled the latest from the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project, led by the University of Birmingham in conjunction with the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology.

Precise positioning using a GPS system during the Stonehenge survey.© LBI ArchPro, Geert Verhoeven

Precise positioning using a GPS system during the Stonehenge survey.© LBI ArchPro, Geert Verhoeven

The digital mapping project, which has been using remote sensing and geophysical surveys to map the hidden landscape of the site, has revealed hundreds of new features, including seventeen previously unknown ritual monuments, dozens of burial mounds, and more information about the world’s largest ‘super henge’, Durrington Walls.

‘This project has revealed that the area around Stonehenge is teeming with previously unseen archaeology’ said Professor Gaffney, ‘and that the appreciation of new technology can transform how archaeologists and the wider public understand one of the best-studied landscapes on Earth.’

All of the new information forms part of the most detailed archaeological digital map of the Stonehenge landscape ever produced.

One of the unexpected results of the survey is new information about Durrington Walls – a so called ‘super henge’ a short distance from Stonehenge, which has a circumference of more than 1.5 km. The survey reveals that, in its early phase, the monument was flanked with massive posts or stones, which could have been up to three metres high, and may still survive beneath the surface.

3D-reconstruction and visualization of the long barrow southwest of Durrington Walls (view towards the entrance from the northeast) just before the wooden mortuary building was completely covered by material excavated from ditches dug along the long sides of the construction.© LBI ArchPro, Joachim Brandtner

3D-reconstruction and visualization of the long barrow southwest of Durrington Walls (view towards the entrance from the northeast) just before the wooden mortuary building was completely covered by material excavated from ditches dug along the long sides of the construction.© LBI ArchPro, Joachim Brandtner

The project has also revealed a massive timber building which was probably used for ritual preparation of the dead, which was later covered by an earthen mound.

More recent activity has also been uncovered – including practise trenches dug around Stonehenge to prepare troops for battle on the western front during the First World War.

Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project – Stonehenge Smiley face (yes folks that really is a prehistoric ring ditch with internal or earlier features)© LBI ArchPro

Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project – Stonehenge Smiley face (yes folks that really is a prehistoric ring ditch with internal or earlier features)© LBI ArchPro

‘Despite stonehenge being the most iconic of all prehistoric monuments and occupying one of the richest archaeological landscapes in the world, much of this landscape in effect remains terra incognita‘ says Professor Gaffney. ‘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.’

  • Stonehenge forms part of the nominations for our ‘100 Great Geosites’ project, included in ‘human habitation’ category. Voting for the final list is open until 22 September – visit www.geolsoc.org.uk/100geosites to find out more about the project and cast your vote!
  • Operation Stonehenge: What Lies Beneath is due to be broadcast on BBC Two at 8pm BST on Thursday 11 September.

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