Stonehenge — perhaps the most studied structure remaining from the ancient world. And yet, this arrangement of massive rocks standing in the middle of an open field north of Salisbury, England, remains a poorly understood mystery. But an amazing new discovery by archaeologists using high tech instruments and working over the past four years, appears to turn everything we think we know about Stonehenge upside-down.
“There was sort of this idea that Stonehenge sat in the middle and around it was effectively an area where people were probably excluded, a ring of the dead around a special area — to which few people might ever have been admitted,” researcher Vince Gaffney, one of the scientists leading the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project, told Smithsonian Magazine. “This is among the most important landscapes, and probably the most studied landscape, in the world. And the area has been absolutely transformed by this survey. Won’t be the same again.”
What were the astounding Stonehenge discoveries? The Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project researchers — using 3D laser imaging, ground-piercing radar and other 21st Century technology — discovered that at least 15 more ancient monuments, lie underneath the grassy plain surrounding the famous Stonehenge monument itself.
The newly discovered ancient monuments, which line up with the rise and setting of the sun at various times of the year, give Stonehenge the appearance of an ancient “cathedral,” where people from miles around came to worship, rather than a place where only priests were permitted, conducting sacred and mysterious rituals.
The discovery is the latest in a series of recent findings about the strange and spectacular site, which scientists believe may be up to 5,000 years old. In fact, last fall, scientists found evidence that the area in which Stonehenge was constructed may have been occupied by human inhabitants for more than 10,000 years, making it the longest continually populated place in England.
In related discovery, scientists found that the stones used to build Stonehenge were taken from a quarry not even two miles away from the Stonehenge site, rather than hauled from hundreds of miles away, and possibly even carried by sea, as had previously been believed.
Among the new discoveries, an ancient, lengthy “trough” or depressed area that Gaffney believes could have been used as a processional to channel worshippers by the dozens directly into the center of what is now called Stonehenge.
The team of archaeologists, however, has not done any digging to uncover the newly discovered Stonehenge monuments. The process of actually unearthing the new findings will take years, Gaffney said.