Stonehenge Probably Had a Posse

Charles C. Lane / AP
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

For the past five years, a group of high-tech archaeologists have been using a range of digital instruments to peer at the ground around Stonehenge. Last year at the British Science Festival, the explorers revealed what they’d virtually unearthed—a whole family of monuments that, taken together, dwarfed the size of the mysterious ring of boulders we know as Stonehenge. (The early favorite nickname for the complex of boulders was the “super henge,” but please, please let that not be the end of the matter, I beseech you, Universe.)

Today was the first day of the 2015 British Science Festival, and the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project team is back with another revelation: evidence of at least 100 more standing stones, buried a short distance from the stones that stand today. Here’s a visualization imagining the ancient structure:

More from the Guardian’s science editor Ian Sample:

The hidden arrangement of up to 90 huge standing stones formed part of a C-shaped Neolithic arena that bordered a dry valley and faced directly towards the river Avon.

Researchers used ground-penetrating radar to image about 30 intact stones measuring up to 4.5m tall. The fragments of 60 more buried stones, or the massive foundation pits in which they stood, reveal the full extent of the monument.

“What we are starting to see is the largest surviving stone monument, preserved underneath a bank, that has ever been discovered in Britain and possibly in Europe,” said Vince Gaffney, an archaeologist at Bradford University who leads the Stonehenge Hidden Landscape project. “This is archaeology on steroids.”

For more on the Hidden Landscapes Project’s discoveries, either this extensive Smithsonian writeup from last year or this interview with team member Paul Garwood should do the trick. But as the Smithsonian story points out, don’t expect answers from the site anytime soon. The monument and its environs have a stunning way of just drawing us deeper into their mysteries.