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Stonehenge World Heritage Site lidar

Stonehenge Location MapThe Stonehenge lidar survey had its origins in the requirement for English Heritage and the National Trust to produce a management plan for the World Heritage Site at Stonehenge, and an archaeological response to the improvements to the roads around Stonehenge and the planned new Visitor Centre.

The archaeological potential

The archaeological potential of lidar had only recently been realised but it was decided to use it at Stonehenge for two main reasons. Firstly, it was felt that it would provide an accurate detailed terrain model for the entire World Heritage Site allowing the relationships of monuments to one another to be investigated in GIS. Secondly, it would be a perfect landscape in which to test the ability of lidar to record features that had been levelled by years of ploughing.

The Stonehenge landscape is one of the most studied in Europe so it was thought that if the new lidar technique proved useful here it was likely to have similar or greater impact for other historic landscapes. The results were spectacular in so far as not only was lidar able to record known monuments, but it substantially increased the extent and detail of some. The results of the survey are published in greater detail in New light on an ancient landscape: lidar survey in the Stonehenge World Heritage Site by Bewley, Crutchley and Shell in Antiquity Vol 79:305, but some of the main findings are described below.

Results

At  the western end of the Greater Cursus the lidar survey clearly revealed previously unrecorded field banks both within the Cursus and overlying the northern Cursus bank to the east of Fargo Plantation, as an extension of the field system recorded to the north. The north-south bank within the Cursus is almost certainly the feature recorded by Philip Crocker in his ‘Map of Stonehenge and its Environs’ for Colt Hoare’s Ancient History of South Wiltshire (Hoare 1812).

Detail of relief shaded lidar image for the west end of the Cursus © English Heritage - Original data from The Environment Agency.

Detail of relief shaded image for the west end of the Cursus where it passes through Fargo Plantation, illuminated from the northeast, with NMP aerial photographic transcription overlaid (orange) and features newly identified from lidar (blue).
© English Heritage - Original data from The Environment Agency.

Elsewhere much of the additional data added to field systems was in the form of sub-divisions, particularly cross-banks, running perpendicular to the main alignment of the fields that were shown up by lighting from unusual angles. A particularly good example of this occurs in the field system to the north-east of the Winterbourne Stoke crossroads barrow group where aerial photographs had previously shown cropmarks of a number of field banks running northeast - southwest. Lighting from the south-west now revealed the cross-banks running northwest – southeast completing the definition of these small regular fields. This lighting also suggested that there are further elements to the enclosure near the centre of the image.

Lidar derived image of prehistoric fields north-east of the Winterbourne Stoke Barrow group. © English Heritage - Original data from The Environment Agency.

Prehistoric fields north-east of the Winterbourne Stoke Barrow group with with NMP aerial photographic transcription overlaid (orange) and features newly identified from lidar completing the plan of the fields (blue). Underlying lidar data lit from the north.
© English Heritage - Original data from The Environment Agency.

The images used on this page are copyright English Heritage unless specified otherwise. For further details of any photographs or other images and for copies of these, or the plans and reports related to the project please contact the English Heritage Archive.

For further information on a project or any other aspect of the work of the Aerial Survey team please contact us by email via the link above.

CONTACT

Aerial Investigation and Mapping - Swindon
Heritage Protection Department