A new Henge is discovered at Stonehenge - History is set to be rewritten after an archaeology team led by the University of Birmingham and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology in Austria discovered a major ceremonial monument less than one kilometre away from the iconic Stonehenge. The incredible find has been hailed by Professor Vince Gaffney, from the University’s IBM Visual and Spatial Technology Centre, as one of the most significant yet for those researching the UK’s most important prehistoric structure. [Read More] in the news section "VISTA-LBI team discover new monument at Stonehenge".
The area around Stonehenge may appear unique but the interpretative issues here are common to many archaeological landscapes. Emerging over millennia the countryside is a four-dimensional puzzle in which spatial relations of monuments (in Cartesian terms) must be merged with archaeological time (interpretative periods – Neolithic, Bronze Age) and personal time (measured by the scale and spatial relationship of monuments). Interpretational significance is situated both in the past through the, presumed, liturgical and social significance of the monuments to prehistoric societies, and the present, where our personal appreciation of the surviving landscape or situation of a monument must also be gauged and represented. The archaeological problems of landscape are therefore quantitative, semi-quantitative and qualitative in nature. To represent this in any sense is a challenge but any solution is will certainly require substantive digital assistance which goes beyond simple measurement. In making this assertion it should be noted that, in landscape terms, our previous technology of choice, GISs currently contribute relatively little to this discourse. For this we must turn to the converging spatial technologies that also have a real potential for greater immersion, specifically virtual or augmented realities reality and, increasingly frequently, sSerious gGaming technologieswhere aspects of games design and interactivity are used for educating the user. These provide an enhanced sensuousness of experience and incorporate approximations of time/space movement that can merge archaeometrics with ideational models. For instance, if, as often happens at Stonehenge, we assert that a landscape or a monument had an emotive impact on a past society, perhaps because of the grandeur of the structure or, in the case of some monuments, in the manner in which these may link to the wider landscape, this may be best demonstrated by reconstructing the monument in some manner. Like many other quantitative models there is no claim that such a reconstruction is “real” in any sense. It is merely a representation of an example of our interpretation, which may itself have an emotional impact upon the observer. However, there is an argument that this is a better representation of how archaeologists actually relate to their subject of study rather than the abstract mapping within traditional publications that they usually portray as ‘scientific’ representation of the past.
We can demonstrate this with respect of the henge monument presented in the figure above. This is re-presented within a gaming games environment. This illustration is not, however, presented as a reconstruction. The image has all the features of the interpreted monument (segmented ditch, post/pit features with wooden structure and an internal mound), but presumes the structure to be a composite monument constructed as a single event. In fact, these individual features are more likely to have been added over time. Despite this, aspects of the image do have some potential validity in interpreting the monument that cannot be gained from the existing feature or the geophysical plot. It is neither the beautiful turf-covered feature of the present landscape nor the gleaming structure cut from chalk that may have been seen when originally constructed. Instead it is presented at a stage after initial cutting and when grass may have begun to grow to grow. This is an image which the archaeologist may imagine as important in the life cycle of a monument but which is rarely presented in an accessible form to either the expert or interested layman. There are, of course, dangers in how such models are presented to the wider public and the community must ensure that these are not interpreted as a unitary reality. Despite this, archaeologists cannot ignore the interpretative opportunity of experiencing interpretation in a manner that can also challenge their own perception of the past.