Stonehenge was much more complex and intricate than most people believed, according to a new discovery made at the site. Using advanced metal detectors, lasers and other sensors, archaeologists discovered a vast network of structures under the soil of the Salisbury Plain.
Stone shrines and temples, some up to 6,000 years old, were revealed beneath the ancient monument. A total of 17 of these features were discovered using ground-penetrating imaging technology, along with dozens of burial mounds.
Investigation of Stonehenge and the surrounding region was carried out over the course of four years. Subterranean images were recorded over an area of 4.6 square miles, down to a depth of 10 feet. This study is the largest, most complete geophysical survey ever conducted of the archaeological site.
The ground over the subterranean chambers easily merged into the surrounding rolling landscape, hiding the features for millennia.
"Seventeen new extant monuments and many lesser structures all dating from around 3100 BC or earlier, have been found around the site, implying that Stonehenge was not the only ritually important site in the area," Nishad Karim and Aditee Mitra of the British Science Association, wrote.
A barrow, a type of primitive burial mound, was revealed under the grounds of Stonehenge. The remains of a large timber building show where ancient people may have interred their dead, following repeated exposure and defleshing.
This study also revealed previously-unknown secrets of other superhenges in the area. At Durrington Walls, evidence was found that the monument was once surrounded by up to 60 posts or stones, standing up to 10 feet tall. This ritual monument has a circumference of nearly a mile.
Findings from the study also included evidence of ancient pits, some of which are aligned to objects in the night sky.
Life in later times, including the Roman occupation of England, is also revealed in discoveries made at the iconic monument. Modern history is also coming to life from the new survey. Maps of RAF/RFC Stonehenge, one of the first military airbases in England which stood between 1917 and 1920, were also revealed, along with remains of a training base from later in the war.
"This project has revealed that the area around Stonehenge is teeming with previously unseen archaeology and that the application of new technology can transform how archaeologists and the wider public understand one of the best-studied landscapes on Earth," Vincent Gaffney, of the University of Birmingham, said.
Operation Stonehenge: What Lies Beneath, a new television series being produced by BBC 2, will detail findings made using the cutting-edge imaging technology.
Discovery of the underground chambers at Stonehenge was announced at the British Science Festival, held in Birmingham, England from 6-11 Sept. 2014.