Lasers find secrets of Stonehenge
They’ve dug under it, mapped it, photographed it and dated it, but a new laser scan of Stonehenge has told scientists even more things they didn’t already know about the ancient Wiltshire monument – including which way the monument ‘faced’.
The scan has found new evidence to confirm the importance of the two solstices to its creators, according to English Heritage, and reaffirmed the view that it was in fact the winter solstice that the stones are aligned for. And although it’s a circle, the laser scans have revealed that the side approached from the north-east was specially treated by its ancient creators, who made what the experts said was ‘deliberate efforts to create a dramatic spectacle for those approaching the monument’.
The first comprehensive laser survey of Stonehenge has revealed that the stones on the outer sarsen circle visible from the north-east side have been completely ‘pick-dressed’. That means the brown and grey crust on the surface has been removed, to expose a fine, bright white-grey surface. By contrast, the outer faces of surviving uprights in the south-western segment of the circle were not pick-dressed.
Professor Clive Ruggles, from the University of Leicester, said the laser scanning also revealed 71 more carvings on the stones themselves, most of them axe-heads.
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“This extraordinary new evidence not only confirms the importance of the solstitial alignment at Stonehenge, but also shows unequivocally that the formal approach was always intended to be from the north-east, up the Avenue towards the direction of midwinter sunset,” he said. “We see how the utmost care and attention was devoted to ensuring the pristine appearance of Stonehenge for those completing their final approach to the monument at the two times of the year when sunlight shines along the alignment - when those approaching had the midsummer rising sun behind or the midwinter setting sun ahead.”
Susan Greaney, English Heritage’s senior properties historian, said: “We didn’t expect the results of a laser scan to be so revealing about the architecture of Stonehenge and its function.”
The discoveries are good news for English Heritage’s plan to close the A344 and ‘open up’ the stones to the countryside to the north east, as part of the £25 million visitors’ centre project.