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Underneath Stonehenge, 'A Map Of What Was There In The Past'

Researchers in the U.K. have uncovered a hidden complex of archaeological monuments under Stonehenge using high-tech methods of scanning below the Earth's surface.
Geert Verhoeven/University of Birmingham
Researchers in the U.K. have uncovered a hidden complex of archaeological monuments under Stonehenge using high-tech methods of scanning below the Earth's surface.

There's much more to Stonehenge, it turns out, than meets the eye (or, for that matter, Spinal Tap).

Researchers from Birmingham University used high-tech equipment to map 17 ritual monuments in the area. That's in addition to the iconic circle of stones that has stood there for thousands of years.

Professor Vincent Gaffney, the project leader, tells NPR's Robert Siegel that researchers found a large amount of new archaeological sites dating to the period of Stonehenge, as well as later and earlier periods. They were, he said, small "henge-like" monuments like Stonehenge, "but perhaps better interpreted as small chapels."

And what stands underneath the World Heritage Site that attracts more than 1 million visitors annually is more numerous than what we can see.

"The results," Gaffney said, "actually look like a map of what was there in the past."

A statement from the Birmingham University said: "Work also revealed novel types of monument including massive prehistoric pits, some of which appear to form astronomic alignments, plus new information on hundreds of burial mounds, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman settlements and fields at a level of detail never previously seen."

The project was a collaboration between the university and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology.

Archaeologists think that Stonehenge, about 80 miles southwest of London, was built between 3000 B.C. and 1600 B.C. It is believed to be a temple, but who it was built by and who it was dedicated to is unclear. The new, underground discoveries are only likely to add to the mystery.

Of course, if you're a Dr. Who fan you knew there was something underneath all along.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.

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