Secrets of Stonehenge revealed by 3D scan

Posted by Emma Woollacott

A comprehensive 3D scan of Stonehenge has highlighted the importance of the solstices to the stone circle's creators.

The scan shows that, like many of us, the creators focused on doing their best work where it was most likely to be appreciated. The best view of the four thousand-year-old stones is from the Avenue, the ancient processional way to the north east, and it seems the stonemasons made a particular effort to create a dramatic spectacle from this angle.

And, says English Heritage, this implies that the midwinter sunset was particularly important to the site's builders.

"We didn't expect the results to be so revealing about the architecture of Stonehenge," says Susan Greaney, senior properties historian at English Heritage. "It has given further scientific basis to the theory of the solstitial alignment and the importance of the approach to the monument from the Avenue in mid winter."

The stones on the outer sarsen circle that are visible when approaching from the north east have been completely pick dressed, with the brown and grey crust on the surface removed to expose a bright, grey-white surface.

By contrast, the outer faces of surviving uprights in the south-western segment of the circle were left unfinished.

The north-east-facing stones are also the largest and most uniform in shape, and the lintels particularly well-worked. The sides of the stones that flanked the north-east/south-west solstice axis were found to have received the most attention, to form very straight and narrow rectangular slots.

This, says English Heritage, strongly suggests that special effort was made to allow a more dramatic and obvious passage of sunlight through the stone circle on midsummer and midwinter solstices.

Analysis of the laser scan has also led to the discovery of many more prehistoric carvings, including 71 new Bronze Age axeheads, which bring the number of this type of carvings known at Stonehenge to 115.

However, says Greaney, "Disappointing to some, the scan has also ruled out many poorly defined lines and hollows previously thought to be possible prehistoric carvings."