The recent discovery of a new henge, close to Britain's world-famous vast site, is regarded as a major find. This ceremonial monument, the first to be found over the past half-century, has opened up fresh possibilities of unravelling one of the long standing puzzles in history — the purpose of 4500-year-old Stonehenge. The cutting-edge technologies that uncovered the henge hold promise for the future of archaeology. Stonehenge, with its ring of stones, is unique in architecture and remarkable in scale. It was constructed using wonderful woodworking techniques. It is one of the most researched ancient sites in the world, yet a clear understanding of its purpose remains elusive. Was it a place of worship? Was it used for calibrating a cosmic calendar? Questions like these have found no reliable answers. A recently advanced theory even suggests that it functioned as a place of healing. So far, most of the research has focussed narrowly on Stonehenge and the latest discovery could expand the scope for research. The existing henge and the new one, which appears coeval, are inter-visible and on the same orientation. This relationship between the two has drawn attention to the entire landscape; as archaeologists probe further and deeper, they may arrive at a new understanding of the whole ensemble.

Archaeology, often poorly funded, finds excavating vast sites such as Stonehenge, which is spread over 14 sq. km., difficult. The fear of damaging the site in the event of a wrong dig has also been a deterrent. As a result, excavations tend to get less explorative, limiting the understating of the sites. On the other hand, emerging technologies are a great boon to archaeology. The international Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project, a collaborative effort involving seven institutions, mapped the entire site using a variety of technologies. Ground-penetrating radar, magnetic surveys, and electromagnetic studies were deployed. Improvised and scaled-up detectors hooked to vehicles travelling at a speed of about 10 km an hour scanned the entire site in just three weeks without compromising the quality of data. This virtual excavation, using the digital information collected, pointed out the exact location of the new henge. Conventional excavation can now be precisely directed to unearth the hidden structures. There is a lesson here for the Indian archaeological establishment. Substantial investment in the application of science in archaeology is vital for improving the quality and scope of research. New technologies can help prioritise areas for immediate excavation while protecting the rest for future study.

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