When US President Barack Obama paid a visit to Stonehenge on his return home from the recent NATO summit, he might have left the ancient site without seeing the whole picture; as it seems there is much more to the stone circle than meets the eye.
Archaeologists have been mapping the monument with the latest technology to discover what is as much as three meters below the surface - and their results have been surprising.
Far from being alone in the Wiltshire landscape, Stonehenge was originally surrounded by seventeen other shrines. Furthermore, it may not have been the only henge in the area, as there are traces of up to 60 huge stones which formed part of the 1.5km-wide "super henge" which had already been discovered at Durrington Walls. Far from being an isolated place which only a few special people visited, it seems to have been a bustling centre of activity. One building in particular seems to have been associated with funerary rites. Under one mound, researchers discovered a 33m-long timber building about 6,000 years old, which was probably used for burials and related rites, possibly including excarnation (stripping flesh from bones). Professor Wolfgang Neubauer noted that these structures were similar to others found in mainland Europe;
"[It] has three rows of roof-bearing posts. It is around 300 square metres and slightly trapezoidal, which is interesting because in the same period on the continent, about 100 to 200 years earlier, we also find this type of trapezoidal building related to megaliths.”
So, it seems Stonehenge has been a busy centre of spiritual activity for even longer than had previously been thought.