In Brief

Stonehenge: project reveals secrets of what lies beneath

Archaeologists say discovery of new monuments 'fundamentally changes' how we view Stonehenge

An unprecedented survey of the ancient grounds surrounding Stonehenge has revealed scores of archaeological discoveries, including previously unknown burial mounds, massive pits and ritual shrines.

Researchers say the findings could "fundamentally change" how we view Stonehenge, seen as the most important archaeological monument in Britain.

Researchers have spent four years surveying 12 sq km of land, the equivalent of 1,250 football fields, and created the most detailed map ever produced of the earth beneath the monument and the surrounding area.

"The findings really do change how we view Stonehenge. It no longer sits isolated in the centre of a plain," Vince Gaffney, head of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project at Birmingham University, tells The Guardian.

His team uncovered at least 17 late-monolithic monuments, of a similar period and style to Stonehenge. Gaffney says they are smaller in scale but "nonetheless intimately linked with the stones themselves and representing what must have been smaller ritual shrines or something of that sort".

Dozens of burial mounds were also mapped in detail, including a 33 metre-long burial mound containing a timber building, which researchers believe was used for "the ritual inhumation of the dead". These burials would have followed a ritual of exposing the corpse and then "defleshing" it, said researchers.

Another surprise find was traces of up to 60 more large stones that formed part of a "super henge" previously identified at nearby Durrington Walls. This immense ritual monument, thought to be the largest of its kind in the world, has a circumference of more than 1.5km.

The discoveries were largely made possible by new technologies, such as high-resolution magnetometers and ground-penetrating radar that scan the ground to detect structures and objects several metres below the surface.

The new technology has also enabled archaeologists to discover massive prehistoric pits, some of which appear to form astronomic alignments, as well as new information on Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman settlements and fields at a level of detail never previously seen.

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