Tuesday, August 26, 2014

NEW WORK BEING DONE AT STONEHENGE WITH "STONEHENGE HIDDEN LANDSCAPES PROJECT"

Faint as the Avenue was, Vince Gaffney hustled along as if it were illuminated by runway lights. A short, sprightly archaeologist of 56, from Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England, he knows this landscape as well as anyone alive: has walked it, breathed it, studied it for uncounted hours. He has not lost his sense of wonder. Stopping to fix the monument in his eyeline, and reaching out toward the stones on the horizon, he said, “Look, it becomes cathedralesque.”

Gaffney’s latest research effort, the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project, is a four-year collaboration between a British team and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology in Austria that has produced the first detailed underground survey of the area surrounding Stonehenge, totaling more than four square miles.

The results are astonishing. The researchers have found buried evidence of more than 15 previously unknown or poorly understood late Neolithic monuments: henges, barrows, segmented ditches, pits. To Gaffney, these findings suggest a scale of activity around Stonehenge far beyond what was previously suspected. “There was sort of this idea that Stonehenge sat in the middle and around it was effectively an area where people were probably excluded,” Gaffney told me, “a ring of the dead around a special area—to which few people might ever have been admitted....Perhaps there were priests, big men, whatever they were, inside Stonehenge having processions up the Avenue, doing...something extremely mysterious. Of course that sort of analysis depends on not knowing what’s actually in the area around Stonehenge itself. It was terra incognita, really.”

The huge bluestones each weigh between four and eight tons and were brought to the site from North Wales, 170 miles away. The Stonehenge landscape, the new evidence suggests, guided the movement of great crowds. The heelstone aligns with the rising sun on the summer solstice as seen from the stone circle, about 80 yards away. It is one of “an excessive number” of such features in the Stonehenge landscape. The massive stone monument rising from Salisbury Plain must have been an impressive sight to ancient visitors.

The Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project used ground-penetrating radars and GPS-guided magnetometers (right) to produce what amounts to a 3-D map of a four-square-mile area. Nighttime only enhances the mystery of Stonehenge. Was it a temple? A graveyard? A healing place? Scholars believe the first stones were erected at Stonehenge around 2600 B.C. and that construction continued on the site for a millennia.

Nobody has yet put a spade in the ground to verify the new findings, which were painstakingly gathered by geophysicists and others wielding magnetometers and ground-penetrating radars that scan the ground to detect structures and objects several yards below the surface. But Gaffney has no doubt of the work’s value. “This is among the most important landscapes, and probably the most studied landscape, in the world,” he says. “And the area has been absolutely transformed by this survey. Won’t be the same again.”

Take the big question: Was Stonehenge predominantly a temple, a parliament or a graveyard? Was it a healing ground? We don’t know, for sure. We know that people were buried there, and that the stones are aligned in astronomically important ways. We also understand, because of the chemical composition of animal bones found nearby and the provenance of the stones, that people traveled hundreds of miles to visit Stonehenge. But we cannot say, with certainty, why.

See the wonderful photos in Smithsonian Magazine. Interested in a young adult book on Stonehenge? Caroline Malone and Nancy Bernard 's Stonehenge is still available through Amazon.

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/what-lies-beneath-Stonehenge-180952437/#fDgV9ocsGUIoMvvF.99
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