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Modern Technology Reveals Stonehenge’s Long-Held Secrets

Modern technology has revealed some ancient secrets that Stonehenge has kept hidden for thousands of years:

A detailed laser-scan survey of the entire monument has discovered 72 previously unknown Early Bronze Age carvings chipped into five of the giant stones.

All of the newly discovered prehistoric art works are invisible to the naked eye – and have only come to light following a laser-scan survey which recorded literally billions of points micro-topographically on the surfaces of the monument’s 83 surviving stones. In total, some 850 gigabytes of information was collected.

Detailed analysis of that data – carried out on behalf of English Heritage – found that images had been engraved on the stones, normally by removing the top 1-3 millimetres of weathered (darker coloured) rock, to produce different sized shapes. Of the 72 newly discovered images revealed through the data analysis, 71 portray Bronze Age axe-heads and one portrays a Bronze Age dagger.

Prior to the laser survey, 46 other carvings (also of axe-heads and daggers) were known or suspected at Stonehenge – mostly identified visually back in the 1950s. The laser-scan survey has now confirmed the existence of those other images and provided more details about them.

The 72 new ‘rock art’ discoveries almost treble the number of carvings known at Stonehenge – and the monument’s largely invisible art gallery now constitutes the largest single collection of prehistoric rock carvings in southern Britain.

It’s important to note that Stonehenge was almost a 1000 years old when the first carvings were made, so we should be careful to segregate cultural meaning to the various periods of the monument’s existence. The full report (“Stonehenge Laser Scan: Archaeological Analysis Report“, PDF download) contains an image of the axe-head carvings:

Stonehenge Axe Carvings

I definitely recommend reading the entire report, as it contains a number of interesting discussions about Stonehenge that you probably won’t find in the media reports on this project.

Update: Some commenters (below) have suggested the carvings look as much like mushrooms as they do axeheads, which might bring you meaning to the name Stonehenge. What say you?

  1. mushroom marks
    I agree – i find it pretty ridiculous that they are calling those marks ‘axe heads’ and ‘daggers’. Especially given that near the end of the document they puzzle over the fact that the ‘axes’ are ‘unhafted’ with the blades pointing upwards, while the ‘daggers’ have the blades pointing down… An unbiased observer would probably say that all the marks are basically the same and more like a T shape with occasional bumps along the vertical line of the T.
    Those bumps could easily be the veil of the mushroom.
    Weird how different cultural biases affect one’s interpretation of such things – the original discoverers saw axes and daggers, when that would be the last thing I would think of…

    1. Shroomhenge
      The experts who see axes and daggers are the same ones still stuck on literal interpretations that were debunked long ago by their peers, such as the Lascaux cave art being nothing more than a hunter’s good luck charm to catch dinner. Thankfully, we haven’t heard from the Freudians yet!

      That’s not to say the carvings depict mushrooms either — but that’s the point, we don’t know, and it’d be nice for experts to verbally express that simple phrase once in a while.

      They sure do look like mushrooms though! Stonehenge, an ancient Briton version of the Eleusinian Mysteries?

  2. Stone(d)henge

    What say you?

    I say it makes sense. Deep down all menhirs are vertical elements that seem to be sprouting from the ground, just like a mushroom.



    From that, maybe the concept of the dolmen evolves more easily 😉

      1. Wow
        [quote=Rick MG]

        I've often wondered if mushroom rings influenced stone circles:




        Mind: blown.

        How could I have not seen either the mushroom/axehead thing, or the stone circle/mushroom ring thing? I need to work less and think more.

        1. Woohenge
          [quote=Greg]I need to work less and think more.[/quote]

          I’m the opposite, I need to work more and think less!

          So many ideas to consider for stone circles, but many experts are stuck in the literalism of the 1950s. Lynne Kelly, who’s joining Randi at the Australian Skeptics convention in November, says Stonehenge was a site used to “ritually communicate knowledge.”

          I think she may be onto something… but on a completely different level of communication, a la hallucinogenic rituals at Eleusis.

          1. Stonehenge and knowledge
            Thank you for the plug for the presentation at the Australian Skeptics’ Conference, sharing a stage with Randi! My theory is the basis of my PhD dissertation which has just been examined and passed by some of the most eminent archaeologists in the world. But I am afraid there are no hallucinogens. Nor a different level of communication. Only 5000 years ago – they had the same brain as us – they just didn’t write things down. As an arch skeptic, I looked at oral cultures in terms of the pragmatic information (especially scientific) they had to preserve and maintain in order to survive as a culture – masses of it – animal behaviour, plant properties, navigation, astronomy and timekeeping, genealogies, resource rights, legal system, pharmacoepia … they just use different methods than those who write it down – it all has to be stored in memory. How did they remember so much stuff? Hallucinogens would not help!

            Once you apply those mnemonic technologies to the archaeological record, the changes made over the 1500 years of use at Stonehenge make total, practical, rational sense. Oral cultures do not live in a fog of superstition! As one of my Aboriginal advisers kept reminding me: “The Elders were pragmatic old buggers; we wouldn’t have survived if they weren’t.” Something well worth remembering when looking at cultures other than our own.

            Thank you again for the mention. Much appreciated!


          2. Thanks Lynne!
            Thanks for posting, Lynne! Even though I’m on the “woo” side of a few subjects, I’m very tempted to get a ticket for your presentation at the convention.

            I wouldn’t be so quick to brush aside hallucinogens though. There are many oral cultures still existing today who maintain their traditions via altered states of consciousness, either through extreme physical exertions such as dance or fasting, or the use of psychoactive substances. The fact that their traditions are as alive as they were thousands of years ago, is enough to convince me that altered states of consciousness don’t harm the longevity of oral cultural traditions. Whether stone circles were sites used for rituals of altered states however, that’s pure speculation on my part — I’m tempted to quiz you at the convention about it though!

            I’m also reminded of cave art. David Lewis-Williams established the shamanic link between prehistoric cave art and altered states of consciousness (again, either through trance induced by dance and other physical exertions, or psychoactive substances). There’s 20,000 odd years between European cave art and the first megaliths, but in my speculative mind I can see a possible link. I won’t be writing an academic dissertation on it anytime soon, though!

            Cheers for dropping by, Lynne, and all the best with your dissertation. One thing we can all agree on is the enduring allure of Stonehenge, and other megalithic sites — the theories change, but the stones remain as enigmatic as ever.

            PS If any Grailers have their curiosity piqued, details are here for the Australian Skeptics Convention, featuring Lynne Kelly. If you mention the Daily Grail, you’ll get… actually, you’ll probably be laughed at, then they’ll take your money and let you in. But Lynne’s Stonehenge research is fascinating, it’ll be an interesting presentation to attend.

      2. ‘shrooms
        Curiously, I’m more likely to wonder whether mushroom rings have been influenced by stone circles…

        As for the carvings on the stones, they reminded me of marks made by masons seen in old churches. Since the marks at Stonehenge are probably not from those who erected them, I’m also reminded of the attempts by casual visitors to old churches (going back centuries) to add their own marks.

        “I was ‘ere…”

  3. Very cool
    I love the observations about the mushrooms here too.

    I am inclined to believe the mushroom theory myself, but it is very hard to make out the carvings from the picture. Wish I could go take a look at the real thing!

    1. Highly likely these people
      Highly likely these people were mushroom stoners. Life was hard and monotonous most of the time. Anything that would get them out of it temporarily would be seized upon and raised on high.

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