Episode 1 Operation Stonehenge: What Lies Beneath


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The megaliths of Stonehenge

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are Britain's most investigated ancient monument.

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Yet, despite centuries of scrutiny,

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excavations and theories...

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..the big questions remain.

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What were its origins?

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How did it evolve over thousands of years?

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And which forces of nature and humanity inspired its creators?

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Now, a group of experts are taking a hi tech approach

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to unlocking Stonehenge's secrets.

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A site like Stonehenge can only be understood

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by looking at the monuments around it

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and how that landscape's evolved.

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For the first time, we're not just seeing little islands of activity,

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but we get to see the big picture.

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The new data, supported by wider archaeological evidence,

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has thrown fresh light on 10,000 years of human progress.

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It's quite an achievement

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when you think that the people excavating this

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were using stone and bone tools.

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Its ancient people were meticulous planners...

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This is really quite a big feature. It's clearly man-made.

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..profound believers...

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They had very peculiar rituals.

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De-fleshment, cutting off of heads.

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..and fearless warriors.

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When things come to a boiling point,

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the violence that does break out can be very brutal.

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Just kill everything in front of you.

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In just five years, 21st century archaeology has achieved

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what conventional excavation would have taken a lifetime to complete.

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Revealing a picture of Stonehenge...

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..and its people

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as never before.

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Recent times have seen intense levels of activity around

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the world's most famous prehistoric site.

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To solve the mysteries of the monument,

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the scientists have been using a novel strategy.

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Not just focusing on the iconic stones,

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they also investigated the wider landscape in which they sit.

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The thing with Stonehenge is if you visit it,

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you don't always get the sense of the enormity of the landscape.

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It's only when you get above or you get away from it

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that you can really get a sense of how everything fits together

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and really that's at the heart of the whole project.

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We're trying to look at the wider picture.

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To understand Stonehenge, we have to look at the entire landscape,

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both spatially, but also through time.

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The most ambitious of these new studies

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is the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project.

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Led by experts from Birmingham University

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and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute in Austria.

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As people walk over the Stonehenge landscape,

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they're aware of Stonehenge.

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They may be aware of some of the larger monuments

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but they don't appreciate

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that thousands of years of human occupancy in this landscape

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produces features that we simply do not know about.

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The project is using remote-sensing technology to try and map that

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to discover it and display it for the first time.

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With state-of-the-art remote-sensing equipment,

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the team have mapped every structure,

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both visible and invisible,

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across 10 square kilometres of the sacred site.

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We can do a virtual dig of this landscape

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and see what is hidden beneath the surface.

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With machines like this, we can come up with a picture

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which has a resolution of tenths of centimetres...

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This is something absolutely new.

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With all the scanned data collated,

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the team have produced a multi-layered digital map,

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that showed how the landscape developed over thousands of years.

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In order to understand Stonehenge,

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we have to look at the periods up to that construction.

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So, going back 1,000 years or more beforehand.

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And only by doing that

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and understanding how the landscape evolves

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do we get a sense of why Stonehenge is where it is.

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The Hidden Landscapes Project's unprecedented big picture

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has revealed a remarkable world of hidden monuments.

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It was really quite exciting

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when we looked at the data for the first time.

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The team who was looking at it said,

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"That looks like a henge,"

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and that is important.

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As they analysed their data even further,

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they found new information

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about how the other monuments interconnect with Stonehenge.

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The architecture of Stonehenge doesn't exist in isolation.

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There's a form of connectivity in the landscape here

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that we'd not realised before.

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The discoveries made by the Hidden Landscapes Project

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are backed by new finds from other research projects.

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Together they are telling the full story of Stonehenge.

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The first signs of human activity in the Stonehenge area

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date back 10,000 years to a period known as the Mesolithic.

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Around that time,

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three large totem-like poles were erected,

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250m from where Stonehenge now stands.

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Their meaning and purpose has baffled experts

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since their discovery in 1966.

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Recently, at a site only 2km to the south east,

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archaeologists have unearthed the first traces

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of people living in the same period.

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It's a find that may finally answer

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why Stonehenge is located where it is.

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Here's a section through one of the most interesting trenches

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dug in modern history.

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And in fact has all of modern history in it.

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We've got a soil profile here,

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which captures the very modern.

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This chalk layer is from the 1960s,

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dumped from the road that goes to Stonehenge.

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Underneath that, we have a cobbled platform surface,

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which is post medieval.

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We've got some soil build up here.

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But it's this lower bit that's really fascinating and interesting.

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It's sealed by a cobbled surface almost certainly put in by man

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sometime in pre-history and that's brilliant

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because it's capped 14cm of intact Mesolithic archaeology.

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Full of Mesolithic flint work and bone

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and, as you can see, there's a nice, small piece here.

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Ah, yeah, that's a very nice piece.

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I think it's a little blade.

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The big question is, what is so special about this place

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that people are settling here, living here for a long time?

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The rich array of artefacts excavated from this site

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are striking clues as to what compelled these ancient people

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to camp here.

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This is just a sample of the amazing finds that we've got from this site.

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We've got quite domestic-looking tools.

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This type of thing would probably have been used

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to pierce holes in animal skin.

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We've also found much bigger tools.

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This is an absolutely brilliant tranchet axe.

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These things are the Porsche of the Mesolithic.

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Really top-quality flint used for making boats

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and chopping down trees.

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It's not just about stone and flint tools, though.

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We've got about 700 animal bones

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and they're really big.

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These are from aurochs.

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These are three times the size of a normal cow.

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We have at least six aurochs in our assemblage.

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They must have been local.

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They're so big it would have taken a big effort

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to transport them a long way.

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So, these animals are probably around Amesbury and Stonehenge.

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Perhaps the people living all around where we are now

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are seeing these animals move across the landscape

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and getting opportunities to hunt.

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The existence of a large clearing

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in otherwise dense forest

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made this a natural and bountiful hunting ground.

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One of the reasons why it was an open plain...

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perhaps it was because aurochs are such veracious eaters.

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They're like nature's vacuum cleaners.

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Any woodland or bush growth wouldn't have stood much of a chance

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if you had a large herd of animals moving through a place like this.

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As we move down in this landscape, we begin to be part of a funnel.

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It would be a brilliant place for hunter-gatherers to hide

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and observe the movement of these huge animals.

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Topographical scans have revealed

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the contours of this ancient landscape.

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Features that Mesolithic hunter-gatherers could exploit.

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Where this side valley is steep,

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it's very likely that the animals would mass together

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and then panic and then bolt.

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A clever, intelligent hunter-gatherer

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would almost certainly have had a strategy to position themselves

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at points where they knew these animals would come

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through the landscape.

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At that point, that is exactly the best place to take one down.

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So, we started to consider that in this bowl-like landscape

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where you have this arrangement of small hillocks and side valleys,

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you may well have got a brilliant place to hunt.

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For David Jacques, the site held qualities that made it

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more than just a rich hunting ground.

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We're in a really extraordinary place here.

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I mean, this is almost like a time capsule.

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There's very little landscape change extraordinarily from the Mesolithic.

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So, it's a special place.

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The unexpected discovery of a rare natural phenomenon

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may also explain the beginnings of Stonehenge's mystical reputation.

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Well, something that's really interesting about this site

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is that it appears that it's not all about the practical.

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We've noticed a really strange phenomenon with the flint.

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We've got a chemical reaction going on here.

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The flint is turning brown

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because there are traces of iron in the spring water.

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Now, that's typical in a lot of places

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on the edges of fresh water ponds and lakes and rivers.

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But there is something peculiar happening here.

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When a stone like this is pulled out of the water

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and it's kept out of the water for about two to three hours,

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something extraordinary happens.

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It turns into a really bright, almost sort of violent magenta pink.

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The remarkable change is triggered

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by rare algae in the spring water.

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But Mesolithic hunter-gatherers had no rational explanation

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for this vivid change in the flint.

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It would have been the most extraordinary, magical thing

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in the Mesolithic to see a transformation like this.

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They're living at a time where the colour palette

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is dominated by green and brown and black and white.

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Something as flamboyant as this

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would have given this particular area a real local signature.

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Something that would have meant 'this place' to people.

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This is the place where memories and traditions start.

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Stonehenge isn't just a new build.

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It's in response to something.

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The magical, pink flint and an abundant supply of meat

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may have inspired the hunter-gatherers

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to mark out the area with the totem pole-like monuments.

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An act that Jacques believes may have been the start

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of this landscape's mythical status.

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There would be memories attached to that, stories attached to that.

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Almost certainly the people involved are getting mythologized.

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Does that mean down the line these ideas are getting monumentalised

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and later take shape in structures

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like the one we can see behind us at Stonehenge?

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The evidence from the Mesolithic encampment

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combined with the mysterious posts

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establishes a compelling starting point for the Stonehenge story.

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Then, around 8,200 years ago,

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climate change had a dramatic impact

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on the destiny of the Stonehenge landscape.

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As the Last Ice Age thawed,

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rising melt waters engulfed the territory known as Dogger Land.

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And Britain became an island.

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Cut off from continental influence,

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life in Mesolithic Britain changed little.

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For the next 2,000 years,

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no new monuments appeared in the Stonehenge area.

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A clue to the resumption of monument building

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was found in a field 2km to the east of Stonehenge.

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These enigmatic lines are the faint traces

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of an ancient building.

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Surveyed by the Hidden Landscapes Project's high resolution scanners,

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their true significance was revealed.

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We try now set out the points of the monument

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that we actually detected in our magnetic data.

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-OK. That's that one.

-Yep.

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Professor Wolfgang Neubauer and Eamon Baldwin staked out the find.

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-So, that's the east side of the facade.

-Yeah, let's see.

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One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine...

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The structure was far more advanced than anything

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that had previously been built in the region.

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Based on similar discoveries in continental Europe,

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Professor Neubauer identified it as a communal burial tomb,

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known as a long barrow.

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It's 33 metres. That's the normal length of a continental long barrow.

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These are really huge buildings

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and that we actually get this in this landscape, it's just amazing.

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The data showed the monument's original layout

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consisted of wooden pillars and timber walls.

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The presence of long barrows marks a major shift

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in the cultural life of this ancient world.

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Around 9,000 years ago, mainland Europe underwent a social

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and technological revolution -

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the Neolithic era.

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Characterised by farming and permanent settlements,

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the new culture and its ideas slowly expanded west,

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before they finally crossed into Britain about 4000 BCE.

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Along with the development of agriculture,

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the Neolithic age heralded the emergence

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of long barrow burial tombs.

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Like the one exposed by the Hidden Landscapes Project.

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Well, now we've pegged out the whole thing.

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This monument starts to make sense.

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You see this full court with a palisade wall.

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And this was the place where they prepared the dead for burial.

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Bones from excavated long barrows tell of the new funeral practices

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the Neolithic arrivals brought with them.

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They had very peculiar rituals for burials.

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They had de-fleshment.

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They had cutting off of heads.

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Heads were actually treated completely different

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than the other parts of the body.

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There was preparing of the bones to be put into this large tomb,

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which was a tomb for the whole community.

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The remains of up to 50 people - men, women and children -

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were laid to rest in these mass graves

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before they were finally sealed.

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In the end, the whole building was covered with a huge amount of earth

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dug out from big pits to build this long barrow

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as a house for the dead people.

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With other nearby long barrows added to the map,

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this is how the area looked 6,000 years ago.

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The arrival of the Neolithic culture from Europe

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reaffirmed the landscape's sacred status.

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Stonehenge is a unique landscape.

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It encapsulates how early societies related to the landscape.

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Their belief systems pervaded everyday life.

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How ritual and religion was so important to them.

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We see it in Stonehenge in a rather extreme manner,

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but nonetheless, it demonstrates to us

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just how important the position earlier communities had

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with the landscape around them.

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As well as the long barrows, another typical Neolithic structure,

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known as a causewayed enclosure,

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appeared for the first time in the Stonehenge area 5,600 years ago.

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Four and a half kilometres to the north west,

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faint scars on the grassland hint at its original shape.

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This is Robin Hood's Ball.

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You can see it beautifully from this side.

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This is one of the earlier Neolithic monuments built in this landscape.

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It consists of rings of circular ditches with gaps in them.

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These gaps are the causeways, hence the name causewayed enclosure.

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Structures like Robin Hood's Ball brought with them

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the Neolithic concept of dividing up the land.

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These monuments represent the first types of enclosure

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we're finding in prehistory.

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It's the first time people are actually enclosing

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a particular space for a particular purpose.

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In the evolution of Stonehenge, causewayed camps

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and their demarcation of territory heralded a period of conflict

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between competing groups.

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On some of these sites, when they've been excavated,

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they start to give an indication of warfare,

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people killing each other,

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potentially some sort of tension in society.

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Evidence suggested that with the onset of conflict,

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all major developments in the Stonehenge landscape

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stopped for 300 years.

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In total, over 70 structures

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similar to Robin Hood's Ball

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were built across Britain.

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Their distribution has led some to suggest

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they form a border between different groups across the country.

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At one of these sites, Crickley Hill,

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past excavations have discovered

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what may be Britain's first major battle.

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Crickley Hill gives us a completely new picture of the scale

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of violence in prehistoric Britain.

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It's really the first time that we see evidence for warfare

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between separate communities or even groups of communities

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on a completely different scale to what went on previously.

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There's a sense that this was a planned event.

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Possibly the preparations went on for months beforehand

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and this was a very committed action.

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The defenders included men, women and children.

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The attackers, however, were probably mostly adult male.

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THEY SHOUT

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Studies of tribal warfare give some idea

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why the neighbouring clans fought each other.

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There may be a series of perceived injustices that build up,

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over generations sometimes.

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And when things come to a boiling point,

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the violence that does break out

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can take the form of trying

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to actually exterminate a neighbouring community.

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You would then be able to take over their resources,

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to take over their land, their cattle, perhaps even their women.

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400 flint arrowheads found at Crickley Hill

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revealed how the conflict played out.

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From the distribution of arrowheads,

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it does look like the attackers

0:26:580:27:00

successfully overwhelmed the defence.

0:27:000:27:01

Once you are inside, you're in much closer proximity to people

0:27:010:27:05

and fighting at that point would have become hand-to-hand.

0:27:050:27:08

Crickley Hill is just one of a number of violent clashes

0:27:120:27:15

in southern Britain.

0:27:150:27:17

It was a period of instability

0:27:190:27:20

that seems to have brought monument building in these areas

0:27:200:27:23

to a standstill.

0:27:230:27:24

Excavated skulls from the period

0:27:280:27:30

provide an insight into the savagery of the fighting.

0:27:300:27:33

We have these individual examples of people that had died violently.

0:27:380:27:42

The original point of impact on this individual was from the side,

0:27:440:27:48

perhaps even slightly behind, coming in from this direction.

0:27:480:27:51

This was a very sharp, strong blow.

0:27:510:27:53

This is a rounded fracture arc.

0:27:560:27:59

There's no question that an injury of this severity

0:27:590:28:02

penetrating the cranium, driving the bone fragments into the brain

0:28:020:28:05

would be instantly lethal.

0:28:050:28:07

Research shows no-one was spared from the bloodshed.

0:28:100:28:13

This is an adult female skull.

0:28:180:28:19

In Neolithic societies, it seems possible to think

0:28:220:28:25

that women were not always just innocent bystanders.

0:28:250:28:28

They may have actually been involved in the conflict

0:28:280:28:31

and indeed fighting themselves.

0:28:310:28:33

You don't know who is armed.

0:28:330:28:35

There are no uniforms to know who's a combatant

0:28:350:28:38

and who's a non-combatant.

0:28:380:28:39

In this case, we have adhering bone that's slightly depressed

0:28:390:28:43

and that indicates to me that there was a degree of elasticity

0:28:430:28:46

in the bone that is typical of the bone being still fresh.

0:28:460:28:50

In other words, that was a lethal injury.

0:28:500:28:52

5,500 years ago...

0:28:590:29:01

..causewayed camps like Crickley Hill and Robin Hood's Ball

0:29:030:29:06

were abandoned.

0:29:060:29:07

Their decline signalled the end of large-scale hostilities

0:29:110:29:14

in ancient Britain.

0:29:140:29:15

In the relative peace that followed,

0:29:200:29:23

monument construction in the Stonehenge landscape

0:29:230:29:25

began once more...

0:29:250:29:27

..with the digging of huge oval ditches,

0:29:300:29:33

the largest of which is the Greater Cursus.

0:29:330:29:36

The largest monument in this landscape

0:29:480:29:50

is undoubtedly the Greater Cursus.

0:29:500:29:52

Interpreting the Cursus has been very, very difficult.

0:29:550:29:59

It's only when you start finding more detail about the architecture

0:29:590:30:02

that you start to get a better understanding

0:30:020:30:04

of what is essentially a very, very big, long, bank and ditch.

0:30:040:30:08

Over two and half kilometres long,

0:30:110:30:14

the Cursus represented a new scale of ambition for ancient engineering.

0:30:140:30:18

It required a huge area to be cleared

0:30:210:30:24

before 20,000 tonnes of chalk were excavated to form its immense ditch.

0:30:240:30:28

To meet these new ambitions,

0:30:320:30:33

the builders needed tools on a previously unheard of scale,

0:30:330:30:37

in particular, flint axes.

0:30:370:30:39

There's certainly an increase in the amount of effort

0:30:420:30:44

people are willing to put into constructing monuments.

0:30:440:30:48

270km away, in Norfolk,

0:30:520:30:55

evidence of a prehistoric mining operation

0:30:550:30:58

shows the extraordinary efforts the Neolithic people made

0:30:580:31:02

to meet the demand for high-grade, flint tools.

0:31:020:31:04

Well, here we are, at Grime's Graves in Norfolk, and we're standing

0:31:070:31:09

in the middle of an extremely pockmarked, cratered landscape.

0:31:090:31:12

There are around about 450 of these distinctive hollows.

0:31:120:31:16

Each one of these represents a Neolithic flint mine.

0:31:170:31:20

The quality of flint found in the area

0:31:230:31:26

made it a highly-prized commodity

0:31:260:31:28

and linked it directly to Stonehenge.

0:31:280:31:32

When you go to Stonehenge, a number of the barrows

0:31:320:31:34

and monuments around there have the Grime's Graves flint in with them.

0:31:340:31:38

And we're finding complete artefacts

0:31:380:31:40

finished to a very high quality and then they're being buried

0:31:400:31:43

in significant places, possibly as a ritual offering to the gods.

0:31:430:31:47

It's estimated around 18,000 tonnes of flint

0:31:490:31:52

were removed from Grime's Graves.

0:31:520:31:54

Enough to make millions of axes.

0:31:580:32:00

You can get a real sense of the mining endeavour

0:32:060:32:09

when you look across this whole field.

0:32:090:32:12

But to get an idea of the engineering achievement,

0:32:120:32:14

you need to go down into one of the shafts.

0:32:140:32:17

Now, this particular one has been excavated out in the 19th century,

0:32:190:32:24

so we've got an opportunity to go down there

0:32:240:32:26

and to experience the same kind of environment

0:32:260:32:28

that the Neolithic miners had.

0:32:280:32:30

So here we are at the bottom of one of the shafts.

0:32:540:32:57

It's a lot darker than it would have been in the Neolithic

0:32:580:33:01

because at the moment there is a modern, concrete cover

0:33:010:33:04

just to protect the archaeology.

0:33:040:33:06

Originally, that would have been open to the sky,

0:33:060:33:08

so the sun would have been coming in

0:33:080:33:09

and the walls all around us, the white chalk,

0:33:090:33:11

would have been reflecting that light, bouncing off the walls

0:33:110:33:14

and then extending out into all the excavation spaces beyond.

0:33:140:33:17

Each one of the 450 shafts that you can see on the surface

0:33:190:33:22

would have been like this.

0:33:220:33:23

This particular one descending 12.5 meters down

0:33:250:33:27

through the solid chalk.

0:33:270:33:29

Quite an achievement when you think that the people excavating this

0:33:300:33:33

were using stone and bone tools.

0:33:330:33:36

This would have taken months to excavate out down.

0:33:360:33:39

Once the miners reached the floorstone flint...

0:33:440:33:46

..they dug horizontal galleries

0:33:480:33:51

following the rich seams.

0:33:510:33:52

The galleries are extremely restricted in size.

0:33:560:33:59

So I think we are probably seeing some of the younger,

0:34:010:34:04

slighter elements of society,

0:34:040:34:05

who had engaged in the actual extraction process.

0:34:050:34:08

This is one of the larger gallery spaces down here in the mines.

0:34:160:34:20

A lot of them are far more restricted than this.

0:34:200:34:23

Because the preservation is so incredible,

0:34:260:34:29

we've still got a whole series of their antler picks.

0:34:290:34:33

The tools that they were using down here to chip away at the chalk.

0:34:330:34:38

Now, using the end sometimes to batter away blocks.

0:34:380:34:42

And also to lever the flint up.

0:34:450:34:48

The high-grade flint found at these depths

0:34:520:34:55

motivated the prehistoric miners.

0:34:550:34:57

This is some of the floorstone flint they're looking for

0:35:040:35:07

and you can see it's jet black colour.

0:35:070:35:09

It fractures beautifully and it's still razor sharp.

0:35:090:35:13

Russell also believes

0:35:170:35:18

the mines served an important ritualistic role.

0:35:180:35:21

Moving towards adulthood, you need a rite of passage.

0:35:290:35:32

You need to be doing something that's actually quite extreme.

0:35:320:35:35

And coming down here into the mine, crawling into the galleries,

0:35:350:35:38

into the unknown, into the mysterious, digging out the flint

0:35:380:35:41

and bringing it back up onto the surface

0:35:410:35:44

could move you from childhood to adult

0:35:440:35:46

especially if there is an audience up there waiting for you

0:35:460:35:48

to emerge with your flint in hand.

0:35:480:35:50

Excavated human bones from another Neolithic flint mine

0:35:540:35:58

highlighted the dangers miners faced.

0:35:580:36:00

When they looked at the skeletons

0:36:020:36:04

that were found down in the lower levels of the mine,

0:36:040:36:06

one was actually covered by rubble,

0:36:060:36:08

almost like the material just behind me here.

0:36:080:36:11

The body was lying stretched out in the gallery

0:36:110:36:13

as if going towards the flint.

0:36:130:36:15

When they looked at the bones,

0:36:180:36:19

they realised that it was the skeleton of a young woman.

0:36:190:36:22

I think it was easily plausible that this young woman was a miner

0:36:290:36:33

and that she did come to an unfortunate, untimely end...

0:36:330:36:35

..down in the galleries when the roof collapsed on her.

0:36:390:36:42

Her colleagues, perhaps feeling that she'd been claimed by the earth,

0:36:440:36:47

didn't go back and recover her.

0:36:470:36:49

The astonishing size of the mining complex at Grime's Graves,

0:37:070:37:11

reveals a people capable of planning and executing large-scale projects.

0:37:110:37:16

Attributes that were harnessed in the Stonehenge landscape

0:37:230:37:27

to create the vast Greater Cursus monument.

0:37:270:37:29

But while the function of the mines is proven,

0:37:360:37:39

the role of the Cursus remains a mystery.

0:37:390:37:42

We still don't know why such a huge amount of effort

0:37:440:37:46

was put into constructing such a big monument as the Cursus.

0:37:460:37:50

At the heart of the Stonehenge question -

0:37:530:37:55

you know, what is Stonehenge? - is the Cursus

0:37:550:37:58

and if we can't understand how that fits together,

0:37:580:38:01

we can't understand the landscape.

0:38:010:38:02

To solve the puzzle of the Cursus,

0:38:120:38:14

the Hidden Landscapes Project focused their survey

0:38:140:38:18

on every centimetre of the enormous monument.

0:38:180:38:20

After weeks of analysis,

0:38:280:38:30

the team detected a series of previously unknown breaks

0:38:300:38:33

in the perimeter.

0:38:330:38:35

When we surveyed the Cursus, there were a number of features

0:38:350:38:38

which were quite surprising for us.

0:38:380:38:40

The first was that there were a number of small entrances

0:38:400:38:44

into the enclosure itself.

0:38:440:38:46

It wasn't a single cohesive unit. There were gaps through it.

0:38:460:38:50

So it wasn't simply enclosed. There were ways of going in and out of it.

0:38:550:38:58

The discovery of entrance and exit points

0:39:000:39:03

supported the theory that the Cursus was a processional route.

0:39:030:39:06

But the gaps were only the first clues the survey team uncovered.

0:39:070:39:11

The data also revealed two previously unknown pits

0:39:150:39:19

inside the Cursus.

0:39:190:39:21

I'm standing at the centre of the pit in the west end of the Cursus.

0:39:240:39:28

This is really quite a big feature.

0:39:280:39:30

It's about 5 meters across and

0:39:300:39:32

1 to 1.5 meters deep, at least.

0:39:320:39:35

It has a pair at the other end of the Cursus.

0:39:350:39:38

These are clearly man-made, they're not natural features -

0:39:380:39:41

their depth, the way they're cut, their position within the Cursus.

0:39:410:39:46

These are clearly significant archaeological structures.

0:39:460:39:50

When the positions of the pits were computer-modelled

0:39:540:39:56

against the movement of the sun,

0:39:560:39:59

their true importance became clear.

0:39:590:40:02

The calculations showed that on midsummer's day

0:40:040:40:07

the eastern pit's alignment with the sunrise

0:40:070:40:10

and the western pit's alignment with sunset

0:40:100:40:14

intersect at the location of where Stonehenge would be built

0:40:140:40:18

some 400 years later.

0:40:180:40:19

Accurate solar alignment on this scale provided proof

0:40:230:40:26

of a daylong ceremony held to celebrate the passage of the sun

0:40:260:40:30

at the summer solstice.

0:40:300:40:31

The linkage of these pits with the Cursus,

0:40:340:40:37

which is sometimes regarded as a processional route

0:40:370:40:40

to mark the passage of the sun,

0:40:400:40:42

actually links the Cursus itself with the position of Stonehenge

0:40:420:40:47

because that's the point

0:40:470:40:48

which we presume observations were taking place.

0:40:480:40:51

So, at the point that the Cursus was built,

0:40:510:40:53

Stonehenge is acquiring significance as well.

0:40:530:40:56

The revelations about the Cursus

0:41:030:41:05

suggested that the site of Stonehenge had a ritual significance

0:41:050:41:09

at least four centuries earlier than originally thought.

0:41:090:41:12

It's possible that the pits predate Stonehenge

0:41:180:41:22

and they relate to the phase of activity

0:41:220:41:24

before Stonehenge was built associated with the Cursus.

0:41:240:41:27

This creates a very new and exciting aspect to the Stonehenge landscape,

0:41:280:41:33

which we've not recognised previously.

0:41:330:41:36

The precision and scale of the Greater Cursus design

0:41:410:41:45

indicates a technically advanced and knowledgeable people.

0:41:450:41:48

But the sophistication of Neolithic culture

0:41:540:41:57

wasn't only expressed in its monument building.

0:41:570:42:00

I've got three skulls on the table here,

0:42:060:42:08

all of which come from graves in the vicinity of Stonehenge.

0:42:080:42:12

But the other thing they have in common,

0:42:130:42:15

as well as where they come from,

0:42:150:42:17

is that they have all had surgery to the skull.

0:42:170:42:20

The idea of having surgical intervention so far back in time

0:42:230:42:27

sounds incredibly sophisticated and, in many ways, it is.

0:42:270:42:30

The reason for undertaking surgery of this type

0:42:320:42:35

was if somebody had a blunt weapon trauma to the skull,

0:42:350:42:40

they can see there's been some kind of damage to the skull,

0:42:400:42:43

bits of bone sticking into the brain

0:42:430:42:45

and they've got to be excised

0:42:450:42:47

otherwise it's going to kill that individual.

0:42:470:42:50

The technique, known as trepanning,

0:42:530:42:56

followed similar methods to those used by modern surgery.

0:42:560:42:59

But without the luxury of scalpels and anaesthetics.

0:43:010:43:05

Probably, the worst bit was actually having the skin flap cut...

0:43:080:43:12

..to expose the skull itself.

0:43:130:43:15

As in modern surgery, you would cut a flap of the scalp

0:43:170:43:21

and you would fold it back.

0:43:210:43:23

The forensic analysis revealed

0:43:240:43:26

an unexpectedly advanced grasp of human anatomy.

0:43:260:43:29

So, as you are cutting through the outer plate,

0:43:310:43:34

you can feel it because it's hard.

0:43:340:43:37

Slightly less hard when you get to the middle part,

0:43:370:43:40

then you know when you're at the inner plate,

0:43:400:43:42

so you know where you have got to be careful

0:43:420:43:44

because you do not want to start to hit the brain.

0:43:440:43:47

So, you've got control over this.

0:43:520:43:54

You would be cutting in from a wider outside circumference.

0:43:540:43:58

And you would cut carefully and would bevel in as you cut round,

0:43:580:44:02

and then you would change direction

0:44:020:44:04

and you would cut from the other side.

0:44:040:44:07

And when you get to where you want to be,

0:44:100:44:13

you cut out and lift out very carefully

0:44:130:44:15

the bits of bone you don't want in there.

0:44:150:44:17

Despite the crude nature of the surgical instruments,

0:44:210:44:24

signs of healing around the holes

0:44:240:44:27

showed how adept these early surgeons were

0:44:270:44:29

at performing delicate operations.

0:44:290:44:32

They knew how to do it. They know it worked.

0:44:330:44:36

And they were very successful at this because they nearly all heal.

0:44:400:44:44

Evidence of surgery,

0:44:490:44:51

industrial-scale flint mining

0:44:510:44:54

and a new understanding of the Cursus has revealed a people

0:44:540:44:58

capable of complex reasoning and planning,

0:44:580:45:02

who expressed their ceremonial beliefs

0:45:020:45:04

in precise, solar-aligned monuments.

0:45:040:45:07

This spiritual ambition and mastery of nature

0:45:120:45:15

would be fundamental to the creation of Stonehenge.

0:45:150:45:18

This is clearly the best view

0:45:200:45:22

you can ever have of Stonehenge - from above.

0:45:220:45:24

You can see the other parts of the monument,

0:45:280:45:30

things like the ditch, which runs round it,

0:45:300:45:33

which is from about 3000 BC.

0:45:330:45:37

It's kind of the beginning of what becomes Stonehenge.

0:45:370:45:39

Radiocarbon dating indicates

0:45:420:45:44

that around 400 years after the ditch was dug,

0:45:440:45:47

the stone circle was raised.

0:45:470:45:49

But while experts have a good idea of the order

0:45:560:45:58

in which Stonehenge was built,

0:45:580:46:03

the monument's seclusion has never been fully explained.

0:46:030:46:06

The usual sense has been

0:46:160:46:17

that Stonehenge sits in splendid isolation

0:46:170:46:20

within this broader landscape.

0:46:200:46:22

It's given rise to the idea that a sacred landscape developed

0:46:220:46:26

around Stonehenge during the Neolithic

0:46:260:46:28

within which very few other activities took place.

0:46:280:46:32

The work we've been doing

0:46:320:46:33

approaches this landscape in a radically different way.

0:46:330:46:36

The intention is to see it as a seamless survey.

0:46:360:46:39

Not just what is on top of the surface,

0:46:390:46:41

but what is below the surface.

0:46:410:46:43

In doing this, we're able to put Stonehenge in its landscape context

0:46:460:46:50

in a much richer, much more detailed way.

0:46:500:46:52

The challenge of discovering lost monuments

0:46:540:46:57

in the vacant space around the stone circle

0:46:570:47:00

was one of the Hidden Landscapes Project's core objectives.

0:47:000:47:03

Sector after sector was scanned,

0:47:040:47:07

but nothing was detected.

0:47:070:47:09

Finally, less than 1km to the north west...

0:47:140:47:16

..the archaeologists picked up signals of something unexpected.

0:47:190:47:23

I am standing on a small mound about 900m away from Stonehenge,

0:47:260:47:31

it is called Amesbury 50.

0:47:310:47:33

It's been known for quite a long time.

0:47:350:47:38

It's one of several hundred mounds

0:47:380:47:41

in the immediate vicinity of Stonehenge.

0:47:410:47:43

But the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project has been able

0:47:460:47:49

to use new technologies in a way that gives us new insights

0:47:490:47:53

into this mound and the structures that lie beneath it.

0:47:530:47:56

The high-resolution equipment detected far more detail

0:47:580:48:00

hidden beneath the mound.

0:48:000:48:02

It was really quite exciting

0:48:040:48:06

when we looked at the data for the first time.

0:48:060:48:08

First of all, you just saw the ditches around the mound,

0:48:080:48:12

but it was only after a minute that we started to realise

0:48:120:48:15

that inside the ditches, there were a whole series of large pits

0:48:150:48:20

or post holes and they were completely unexpected.

0:48:200:48:24

The moment we saw them, the team who was looking at it said,

0:48:280:48:32

"That looks like a henge,"

0:48:320:48:35

and that is important.

0:48:350:48:37

Henge monuments like the one located by the survey

0:48:410:48:44

consist of a ditch and bank.

0:48:440:48:46

What made the discovery of this henge so exciting was its location.

0:48:510:48:56

We were particularly interested in this site

0:49:020:49:05

because it's actually a very short distance from Stonehenge.

0:49:050:49:09

At the time that we were doing this work, there was a presumption

0:49:100:49:14

that the area around Stonehenge was reserved for Stonehenge itself

0:49:140:49:19

and that there may well have been little activity around it.

0:49:190:49:22

For the first time, there was proof that other monuments existed

0:49:230:49:27

within the immediate sacred area of Stonehenge.

0:49:270:49:31

The scanning continued

0:49:310:49:33

and more structures began to appear.

0:49:330:49:35

As we started expanding the survey, your eye becomes more tuned

0:49:380:49:41

into the slightly weird things.

0:49:410:49:44

You start exploring the monuments you can see

0:49:440:49:47

trying to find something a bit unusual.

0:49:470:49:49

And quite frequently, you find it.

0:49:490:49:52

As even more data flowed into the Hidden Landscapes Project,

0:49:520:49:55

the number of identified monuments increased dramatically.

0:49:550:50:00

As we began to survey

0:50:000:50:01

much larger areas of the landscape around Stonehenge,

0:50:010:50:04

we began to see a number of other similar late Neolithic monuments,

0:50:040:50:08

which where hitherto unknown.

0:50:080:50:10

This monument, Amesbury 41, just to the north-east of Stonehenge,

0:50:120:50:16

long thought to have been a simple early Bronze age burial monument,

0:50:160:50:20

we can now see is something completely different.

0:50:200:50:23

It is an elongated enclosure with slightly angular sides,

0:50:230:50:27

with an entrance pointing due west.

0:50:270:50:29

In the same frame, we can see another small monument.

0:50:290:50:33

A little mini shrine, a small hengiform monument

0:50:330:50:37

very close to Stonehenge.

0:50:370:50:39

To the north-east,

0:50:390:50:40

these horseshoe-shaped arrangements of pits,

0:50:400:50:43

within which we must assume people gathered together

0:50:430:50:46

to undertake rituals and ceremonies.

0:50:460:50:48

In a separate study,

0:50:510:50:52

archaeologists from English Heritage re-examined old survey data

0:50:520:50:57

taken just 200 metres from the stone circle.

0:50:570:51:01

They, too, saw what appeared to be another henge monument.

0:51:010:51:04

All together, we found about 20 new late Neolithic ceremonial monuments

0:51:060:51:11

within the wider landscape around Stonehenge.

0:51:110:51:14

The discovery of so many shrines in areas once thought deserted

0:51:170:51:21

showed beyond all doubt that Stonehenge was not alone

0:51:210:51:25

and never had been.

0:51:250:51:26

Rather than seeing Stonehenge as standing uniquely in the plain,

0:51:280:51:33

we now start to see that there are a series of similar monuments.

0:51:330:51:37

They may have acted as shrines, the equivalent of a modern rural chapel

0:51:370:51:41

where families, groups would come to visit at certain times.

0:51:410:51:46

It begins to give us an insight

0:51:480:51:50

into how the wider landscape was used at the time

0:51:500:51:54

that Stonehenge was developing into the monument you see today.

0:51:540:51:58

Like many of the ceremonial shrines

0:52:010:52:03

located by the Hidden Landscapes Project...

0:52:030:52:06

..Stonehenge also began its life as a ditch and bank.

0:52:080:52:12

To be transformed into the iconic monument we know today

0:52:150:52:19

required the addition of giant standing stones.

0:52:190:52:22

The tradition of building stone monuments in pre-historic Europe

0:52:290:52:33

dates back about 7,000 years.

0:52:330:52:35

In the centuries that followed,

0:52:390:52:41

megaliths appeared across the continent,

0:52:410:52:43

following the spread of Neolithic culture.

0:52:430:52:46

One of the most impressive displays of ancient standing stones

0:52:480:52:52

can be seen near the French town of Carnac...

0:52:520:52:55

..where 10,000 menhirs,

0:52:580:53:00

most of which predate Stonehenge by many centuries,

0:53:000:53:03

stretch over 6km.

0:53:030:53:05

-FRENCH TRANSLATION:

-The average weight of stones here

0:53:080:53:12

is between two and four tonnes.

0:53:120:53:15

Bigger blocks like this one can reach 20 tonnes.

0:53:150:53:19

Archaeologist Serge Cassen has investigated

0:53:250:53:28

the significance of megaliths to prehistoric peoples.

0:53:280:53:31

-FRENCH TRANSLATION:

-You can commemorate an ancestor's tomb

0:53:340:53:37

with a standing stone.

0:53:370:53:39

You can also use them to show a person's change of status

0:53:390:53:42

and that person's ability to mobilise a large labour force

0:53:420:53:46

to raise the stones.

0:53:460:53:47

And the stones could be used to safeguard a person's future.

0:53:490:53:53

For example, the stone is used to offer protection

0:53:530:53:57

over a field of crops.

0:53:570:53:59

These three functions of standing stones can co-exist

0:54:010:54:05

on an enormous site like Carnac.

0:54:050:54:09

And it's this symbolic use of standing stones

0:54:090:54:12

that characterises the Neolithic age - 5,000 to 6,000 years ago.

0:54:120:54:16

When the Neolithic age reached Britain,

0:54:220:54:25

over 1,000 stone monuments were built

0:54:250:54:29

from the Orkneys to Cornwall.

0:54:290:54:31

In the Stonehenge region,

0:54:340:54:37

one of the earliest examples of the ceremonial use of stone

0:54:370:54:41

is the West Kennet burial chamber.

0:54:410:54:44

We see a whole host of changes accompanying the shift

0:54:580:55:01

from hunter-gatherers in the Mesolithic

0:55:010:55:04

to farmers in the Neolithic.

0:55:040:55:07

And that involved communal building projects

0:55:070:55:09

like Stonehenge, ultimately.

0:55:090:55:11

But before that, projects like West Kennet.

0:55:110:55:13

The stones had to be brought from some distance,

0:55:150:55:17

they're very large stones.

0:55:170:55:19

And so, these were important communal burial places

0:55:190:55:21

that brought the community together.

0:55:210:55:23

The monumental nature of these stones

0:55:350:55:37

symbolized a new level of collective endeavour and cultural ambition.

0:55:370:55:41

An ambition that would develop

0:55:450:55:47

into the ultimate expression of prehistoric building prowess -

0:55:470:55:51

Stonehenge.

0:55:510:55:52

The discoveries of the Hidden Landscapes Project

0:56:000:56:04

in conjunction with other archaeological evidence

0:56:040:56:08

have allowed the first 6,000 years of the Stonehenge story

0:56:080:56:12

to be told with more accuracy than ever before.

0:56:120:56:15

They've charted the area's evolution from its origins

0:56:170:56:20

as a mystical hunting ground...

0:56:200:56:22

..into a sacred site of unprecedented scale.

0:56:260:56:29

Revealed is a fast-developing civilisation

0:56:330:56:36

driven to exploit the region's natural and spiritual wealth

0:56:360:56:40

with increasing sophistication.

0:56:400:56:42

Now, the next chapter of the Stonehenge story can be told -

0:56:460:56:50

the ideas, ambition and technological prowess

0:56:500:56:54

that created Stonehenge itself.

0:56:540:56:57

A monument unique in the ancient world.

0:56:570:57:00

Next time, 21st century archaeology would unlock the intricate puzzle

0:57:060:57:12

of the stone circle's construction...

0:57:120:57:14

You couldn't build something like Stonehenge without a plan.

0:57:140:57:17

..lay bare its bloody rituals...

0:57:190:57:22

To be buried in that ditch at Stonehenge

0:57:220:57:25

suggests we have a sacrificial victim.

0:57:250:57:27

..show where its people lived...

0:57:300:57:32

When I first saw it, it was of course,

0:57:330:57:36

"Wow! Now, we have a settlement."

0:57:360:57:37

What we have been looking for all the time.

0:57:370:57:40

..display the extraordinary craftsmanship

0:57:400:57:42

of Stonehenge's golden age.

0:57:420:57:43

And reveal the stunning truth of how the monument appeared

0:57:450:57:48

at its zenith.

0:57:480:57:50

Stonehenge is an icon of prehistoric British culture, an enigma that has seduced archaeologists and tourists for centuries. Why is it here? What is its significance? And which forces inspired its creators? Now a group of international archaeologists led by the University of Birmingham and the Ludwig Boltzman Institute in Vienna believe that a new state-of-the-art approach is the key to unlocking Stonehenge's secrets. For four years the team have surveyed and mapped every monument, both visible and invisible, across ten square kilometres of the sacred landscape to create the most complete digital picture of Stonehenge and the surrounding area over millennia. Known monuments have yielded more data than ever before, revealing hidden structures within, and new finds are revolutionising the very timeline of Stonehenge.

Operation Stonehenge takes the viewer on a prehistoric journey from 8000BC to 2500BC as the scientists uncover the very origins of Stonehenge, learning why this landscape is sacred, preserved and has been revered by following generations. Evidence of war and conflict, as well as the cultivation of ideas and industry, is explored to reveal complex communities with international trade links as far-reaching as Spain and central Europe.

Using CGI to reveal the monuments hidden beneath Stonehenge and featuring factually sourced dramatic reconstructions, the stories of the buildings and the people that occupied this sacred landscape over four millennia ago are revealed in comprehensive detail.


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