Ghent, Belgium, 16-9-2014 — /EuropaWire/ — A major bridge is being gapped in studying the Stonehenge landscape as advanced, non-invasive survey techniques help reveal both archaeology and, for the first time, past landforms of the prehistoric environment. An important step forward is the possibility to eliminate recent disturbances that, until now, prevented a clear view on the buried past.
The Stonehenge landscape has been the focal point of archaeological studies for more than four centuries. However, until today no detailed mapping of buried landforms has been conducted. Knowledge about such landforms is pivotal in understanding the prehistoric occupation of this enigmatic landscape.
Researchers from Ghent University used a mobile multi-receiver electromagnetic induction (EMI) sensor to obtain three dimensional insights into the Stonehenge soil. This technique, which reveals both the electrical and magnetic properties of the subsurface, helps reconstructing the buried natural landscape variations as well as the archaeology of the site.
Added research effort has further allowed differentiating between recent soil contamination and the buried archaeology. Until now, underground surveys were heavily influenced by metal debris scattered over parts of the Stonehenge landscape. Most notably, rubbish, such as bottle caps and drinking cans, left behind after the Stonehenge Free Music festivals in the 1970’s and -80’s, caused a snow curtain of small spikes in survey data, and obscured the underlying archaeology. Through processing techniques, this recent rubbish could be stripped from the survey dataset, offering a straightforward view onto the buried cultural heritage.
To date, 1.25 km2 at the heart of Stonehenge have been surveyed with EMI. The resulting data reveal past landforms such as buried gullies that ran through the prehistoric landscape. Minute soil variation further indicated the presence of two previously unknown barrow monuments near the Stonehenge Cursus. While results show how this method can provide a robust basis for understanding the prehistoric Stonehenge landscape, the potential to separate recent contamination from the underlying archaeology in survey data can aid in solving management and conservation issues. Through expanding this approach over a wider area, another significant step can be taken towards understanding the prehistoric occupations that have shaped the Stonehenge landscape.
This research is conducted by the Research Group Soil Spatial Inventory Techniques (ORBit) from Ghent University with a long-standing expertise in EMI survey and soil studies. The surveyed area will be extended further, and the on-going research project, funded by the Flemish Research Foundation (FWO), will be completed in 2016.