2. The Stonehenge Riverside Project, and Google Under-the-Earth: Seeing Beneath Stonehenge

The Stonehenge Riverside Project undertook one of the largest set of coordinated investigations into Stonehenge and its wider landscape (Parker Pearson 2012). Initiated in 2003, it comprised six years of excavations and surveys, with over 60 trenches excavated at 17 different sites and monuments (Parker Pearson 2012). The project changed the way in which this landscape is understood today, and the results have had a major impact on the content of the interpretation and exhibition at the new Stonehenge visitor centre. The ground-breaking discoveries made included the remains of Neolithic houses at Durrington Walls, and Bluestonehenge, a stone circle discovered at the West Amesbury end of the Stonehenge Avenue. In addition, the project also excavated some of the major sites and monuments located within the wider landscape, including the Stonehenge complex itself, the Greater Cursus and Woodhenge (Parker Pearson 2012; Thomas et al. 2009).

The project captured the imagination and interest of the public. Over 20,000 individuals visited the excavations during six years of fieldwork, and a number of television documentaries were aired across the globe, coupled with widespread international newspaper and magazine coverage (Alexander 2008; Sturcke and Kennedy 2009; Parker Pearson et al. 2010). On completion of the fieldwork much of the immediately publically visible aspects of the project inevitably disappeared, and the requirements of the post-excavation processes means that final written outputs will be several years in fruition.

Download the Seeing Beneath Stonehenge KMZ (view using Google Earth)

In order to continue to disseminate findings to the general public while the final publications were completed, a new approach was necessary. The end of project fieldwork in 2009 had seen the creation of an archive of nearly 100 gigabytes of data. This ranged from traditional forms of archaeological recording, and importantly an extensive set of spatial data, from aerial photography and geophysical surveys to excavation locations and feature mapping. Primarily organised within a project geographical information system, these spatial datasets were essentially complete, but had not previously been seriously considered for use as part of outreach or engagement activities in their own right. Funding was secured in the form of a Google Factual Research Reward to convert much of the spatial data into a format that could be viewed in Google Earth, allowing the public to explore the interim project findings for themselves via an interactive multimedia layer known as Google Under-the-Earth: Seeing Beneath Stonehenge, which can be explored by users across the globe via the web.