English Heritage have recently commissioned a new, complete 3D laser scan of Stonehenge. This will involve scanning the land in the ‘Stonehenge triangle’, the ground immediately surrounding the stones at a higher resolution, and of course the stones themselves, at a resolution of 0.5mm. You can find out more about the equipment and aims at EH’s “Stonehenge in High Definition” article.
Dave Batchelor from English Heritage describes the project in a short video:
I and many colleagues have wanted this kind of record of Stonehenge to be captured for many years now, so I am pleased that EH have been able to assign resources to undertake the survey. It is excellent that this is also encompassing the ground in the immediate and surrounding areas too. 3D data of the topography will allow for very fine-grained analysis to take place. It will help spot earthworks and subtle changes in the ground that may help in our understanding, and indeed conservation, of this world-famous monument.
I was fortunate enough to have been involved with a laser scanning project at Stonehenge, back in 2002. Myself and colleagues from Wessex Archaeology worked with Archaeoptics to scan and analyse sections of three stones containing rock art at sub-millimetre resolution. Archaeoptics provided the scanner and registered the data, and we worked together to analyse it. Just as today’s work made the BBC news website, so did ours. It took time to develop techniques to enhance the carvings, but through these methods we discovered previously unknown carvings on Stone 53, one of the most studied stones at Stonehenge. We proved that there is a likelihood that Stonehenge still has a lot of secrets to give up.
As quoted on the BBC news website, I said at the time (2003) – and this is the first time I’ve ever quoted myself:
“The laser scanning has opened up a whole new way of seeing Stonehenge,” said Tom Goskar of Wessex Archaeology.
“With more time we could uncover many more and make plainer the outline of some known carvings that are difficult to see.
“This would give us a much better idea of the extent of the carvings and help us achieve a greater understanding of the monument.”
And now it looks like archaeologists are going to get just that chance. The results of this new survey will, I am sure, lead to an amazing new understanding of the monument as a whole. For instance, it’s quite possible that by the middle Bronze Age that certain stones Stonehenge were covered in axe carvings, and there may be other shapes out there waiting to be discovered.
The techniques that we developed to identify and enhance the rock art are ready and waiting, and I have a few new ideas too. It would be very exciting indeed to be able to apply them to parts of this new dataset. Hopefully the data will be available for study. I can’t wait to be able to continue studying the surfaces of those stones.
The results of our 2002 work were published in 2003 in British Archaeology magazine as “The Stonehenge Laser Show“, and on the Stonehenge Laser Scan website. The media attention was huge, and our website fell victim to the ‘Slashdot Effect‘. It was certainly a high point for my career. Our previous work hasn’t been mentioned in any of the articles that I’ve seen on the EH website or the BBC, but these are popular pieces and don’t go into in-depth detail.
Good luck to the team at Greenhatch et al with finishing the survey and processing the data. It’s a huge undertaking, but I can recommend listening to plenty of Hawkwind as you work into the small hours. It worked for us!
So, just for posterity, here’s the Wessex team at Stonehenge all looking rather young in June 2002. Time flies.