A team from Austria and Birmingham have found a new henge within a kilometre of Stonehenge. Image: bham.ac.uk
An expert partnership investigating land around Stonehenge has chanced upon a rival Neolithic henge less than a kilometre away from the famous 5,000-year-old stones.
Teams from the University of Birmingham and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology uncovered the dual-entranced, metre-wide ditch just two weeks into a three-year international study as part of a multimillion pound Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project, which aims to map the surrounding terrain through the latest scientific techniques.
"This finding is remarkable," said Professor Vince Gaffney, from the University's IBM Visual and Spatial Technology Centre. "It will completely change the way we think about the landscape around Stonehenge.
"People have tended to think that as Stonehenge reached its peak it was the paramount monument, existing in splendid isolation.
"This discovery is completely new and extremely important in how we understand Stonehenge and its landscape."
Early research suggests the henge stands on the same lines as the World Heritage Site stones and may have been used to hold a ceremonial timber structure. The geophysics geniuses involved in the project – including Gaffney, who won the Best Archaeological Book category at this week's British Archaeology Awards – are now bidding to unravel its story.
"This is just the beginning," thundered Professor Wolfgang Neubauer, Director of the Austrian institution.
"We will now map this monument using an array of technologies that will allow us to view this new discovery, and the landscape around it, in three dimensions. This marks a new departure for archaeologists and how they investigate the past."
A dizzying array of intrigued commentators wasted little time in offering their views. Dr Christopher Gaffney, of the University of Bradford, said the project had provided "a first glimpse" of "new and important information" on Stonehenge's "hidden past."
"We aim to cover large areas around Stonehenge, and we expect this to be the first of many significant discoveries," he added.
Dr Amanda Chadburn, Stonehenge archaeologist at English Heritage, said the find was the latest evidence of the importance of the summer and winter solstices to the builders of Stonehenge.
"The discovery is all the more remarkable given how much research there has been in the vicinity of Stonehenge, and emphasises the importance of continuing research within and around the World Heritage Site," she said.
Paul Garwood, prehistorian at the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity at the University of Birmingham, was equally enthralled.
"This discovery is of great importance for our understanding of the Stonehenge landscape in the 3rd millennium BC," he said.
"Its location, a short distance from Stonehenge, and the fact that the two monuments were inter-visible, raises exciting new questions about the complex sacred landscape."