Lasers Reveal Underground Secrets of Stonehenge

By Carl Engelking | September 11, 2014 3:55 pm


Stonehenge was constructed more than 4,600 years ago, but its mysterious aura continues to fascinate scientists and Druids alike. Now, new research finds that the story of this ancient site is far deeper than we thought — literally.

British researchers used high-tech archaeological sensing techniques to reveal hundreds of new features hidden beneath the dirt in lands surrounding Stonehenge, including 17 previously unknown circular monuments. Far from a solitary structure, Stonehenge appears to have been just one part of a much larger landscape of shrines. The results are being announced in a BBC feature to air tonight.

Going Deep Without Digging

The archaeological team used six different techniques to scan a 4.5-square-mile swath of land around Stonehenge, both by air and land, beginning in 2010. Magnetometers and ground-penetrating radar allowed researchers to compile three-dimensional information about structures hidden beneath the dirt. From the sky, laser scanning built precise topographic maps of the ground’s surface.

monument distribution

This map shows the distribution of new monument discoveries. (Credit: Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project)

Seventeen smaller neolithic shrines were found scattered throughout the search area. Researchers’ data also revealed 60 huge stones and pillars that formed part of the previously identified “super henge” called Durrington Walls, Britain’s largest henge. Some of these stones were roughly 10 feet tall and likely stood upright like the iconic structure we all know. Durrington Walls is located roughly 2 miles northeast of Stonehenge.

They also found evidence of uses that predated Stonehenge itself. Prehistoric pits, burial mounds and a long “barrow” (a wooden building likely used for “defleshing” the dead in preparation for burial) were among the features discovered underground. You can learn more about their project and findings online.

Researchers believe the entire Stonehenge landscape developed over the past 11,000 years. They plan to continue poring over data to further understand the history and evolution of one of the world’s most intriguing sites.

Not-So-Ancient History

In addition to the stuff of ancient history, their investigation also revealed a few modern relics. Surveys produced detailed maps of practice trenches dug around Stonehenge by troops preparing for World War I, as well as the remnants of a military airbase used by the Royal Flying Corps.

Stonehenge, the 4,600-year-old gift that keeps on giving.


A computer-generated rendering of the barrow found near Durrington Walls. (Credit: Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project)

Top photo credit: Kiev.Victor/Shutterstock

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: archaeology
  • Ron Binkley

    How Amazing,I can’t wait to see what else they find,i’ve been following Stonehenge for quite a long time,and it just amazes me how much they keep finding,Good Show!

  • AKcharle

    I admit to the intense curiosity of all things ancient, but why do we care?

    • SixSixSix

      Obviously you have never watched or read The Outlander or you would not ask such a silly question…

      • AKcharle

        seriously??? Outlander is your answer??? Please.

        • Justin Lee Serrano

          the obvious answer is curiosity thats what humans are. a curious bunch. for reasons as to what color is that and why to the meaning of life. i myself have always wondered why stonehenge was built but even a few years back i always wondered if stonehenge was larger then what it appeared to be. wrote a small paper on it for a class report. unlike natural creatures of the world sometimes humans create things of great importance or…. of no value what so ever. something like stone henge is something i would love to know the mystery of and not just rumors.

        • Audrey Cermak

          Actually, it’s Dr. Who and the Pandorica.

    • Steve Randolph

      If you pay attention to and understand past history, you will be better prepared to deal with the future.

    • AKcharle

      well none of these answer the question “why do we care”. curiosity can lead you to discover all kinds of things, and this is good. forward looking curiosity is how we got here from there. however, when it comes to archaeology, the drive is different. we have no idea what we will find so it can’t be ‘trying to learn from our mistakes’. the time, energy, and money spent digging up the past is baffling to me and so I ask, “to what purpose”.

      • Umar Hassan

        We care because humans require a narrative. We require a linear connection to the beginning that culminates in a predictably satisfying end. There is no other purpose; we require narrative. If it were curiosity, we would not enrich our lives with explanatory myths. Disturb the narrative? You know what happens to heretics?

        • AKcharle

          Excellent answer, thanks. Your right.

      • Small_Businessman

        Not everyone cares about history. Personally, I find it fascinating to know more about our ancestors, and an enigma such as Stonehenge is even more interesting.

        Just like when we moved to the Washington, DC area, I found a great interest in the American Civil War and the battlefields around here. I didn’t care so much when I lived in the Midwest – but now that so much of the history is so close to me, I find it fascinating.

        Not everyone shares that interest – in fact I would say the majority of my friends couldn’t care less. But that’s OK, too.

      • donl

        Don’t ask! …”to what purpose”

    • ImTheNana

      The same reason many people trace genealogy: Who are we? Where did we come from? What came before? What is awaiting us in the future? Etc.

    • Douglas Kerr

      Archaeology tells a story. It is the story of our ancestors. But then, why do we like stories, fantasy, imagination? Does it all boil down to survival value in the game of evolution? Or are some intellectual functions simply the by-product of a bigger brain? With no data to back me up I hold the opinion that a people with good story telling abilities have an advantage over cultures with lesser communication skills. Thus, an evolutionary advantage to caring about stories.

      • Guest

        Now this was a good answer. I do love a good story.

      • AKcharle

        That’s my reply just under me. Wrong sign in. Anyway I do like your answer. I would feel stupid for not thinking of it if it weren’t for everybody else missing it too. I guess you could apply this to space exploration too despite nik’s reply. Funny tho’ how we’ll spend fortunes to satisfy this curiosity.

    • donl

      We don’t all care! that’s a problem!

      • joe huckle

        Nothing is linear, everything from what’s in space to a leave,branch your own cell structure is not linear,

        • donl

          ‘To a leaf’ …The ‘leaves are falling’ what’s in history? learning diction for one!!

    • keith

      curiosity is in part a emotional response motivating the ‘knowledge thirst’ perhaps that’s why we care

    • Victoria

      I care about the vast imagination in our past. How many skills have we found that we can’t reproduced?

  • Susan Briody

    Stonehenge rocks!

  • nik

    Why do we look into the past?
    There’s nowhere else to look!

    • donl

      Some actually bother to ask why we look into the past there’s nothing to gain…..I generally reply w/ Where would you like to start? or if feeling snarky..’ya just can’t fix stupid’ which is more the case,..myself ? I think the past is fascinating!..I practically live on the History channels!,Plus!

      • nik

        Humans have a short memory, one or two generations.
        Ignorance of the past can be fatal, eg Hitler, made the same mistake as Napoleon.
        Human history repeats, over and over, because people ignore the past, and continue to repeat past mistakes.
        Funny if it wasn’t pitiful.

        • donl

          Yes what you’re saying ,while true doesn’t address the situation..about learning history..and history can easily be found in to repeating the stupidity of the earlier..’that’ll never happen to me’ is what’s usually said..

  • Robert Whitney

    Having had the opportunity to visit Stonehenge, it is an amazing structure and it seems our ancient ancestors had a nack for building big stuff!!.

  • Wm Diehl

    Some question why we should care. For me I have had a family that has passed on much history about our family which I have substantiated by genealogical research and DNA test. I find that the history of the British Isles and Western Europe is my family history. It is a part of me. The more one knows, the more interest they possess. Or the opposite the less one knows the more ignorant they choose to be.

  • gendotte

    This cannot be, as the Earth is but 6000 years old. Ask Pat Robertson.


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