Press Centre

Secrets From The Sky

  • Episode: 

    3 of 6

  • Title: 

  • Transmission (TX): 

    Fri 31 Oct 2014
  • TX Confirmed: 

  • Time: 

    8.00pm - 8.30pm
  • Week: 

    Week 44 2014 : Sat 25 Oct - Fri 31 Oct
  • Channel: 

The information contained herein is strictly embargoed from all press, online and social media use, non-commercial publication, or syndication until Tuesday 21 October 2014.
“Looking down from above gives a completely different perspective on these hauntingly beautiful sites. And it’s these breath-taking pictures which will reveal Britain’s Secrets From the Sky.”  Bettany Hughes
Episode three – Stonehenge 
Britain’s most historic landmarks and glorious landscapes are explored from a bird’s eye view in Secret From The Sky. 
Using an octocopter, a remote controlled helicopter carrying a camera, historian Bettany Hughes and aerial archaeologist Ben Robinson look down on sites of great historical interest to gain a fresh perspective and uncover the secrets of our ancestors. 
Britain’s landscape is dotted with historical monuments including Tintagel Castle, Stonehenge, Maiden Castle, Sutton Hoo, The Antonine Wall and Old Sarum.  This series investigates these monuments, showing Britain’s stunning landscapes through fantastic aerial views and revealing a new insight into our nation’s story. By looking down on these sites from above, the clues on the ground can be linked together to uncover the full story locked in the landscape. 
In episode three, we explore the mysteries of Stonehenge, the most famous prehistoric monument in Britain and an icon across the world. 
Bettany says of the stones: “In purely physical terms they make such a massive muscular mark in the landscape. But as big a presence, is their enigma, and I’m sure this is partly why they’re so compelling because for centuries their meaning and purpose has been a mystery.”
Ben says: “How could people not wonder about it? It’s utterly unique. There’s nowhere else like this in the rest of Britain.  There’s nowhere like this in the rest of the world.”
As the octocopter rises high above Stonehenge, Ben searches for clues from the amazing aerial view it provides.  A perfect circle surrounds the famous stones and Bettany meets with archaeologist Geoffrey Wainwright to discover more.  Geoffrey explains that the circle significantly predates the arrival of the stones.  
Geoffrey says:  “This is the first Stonehenge.  Here we have the ditch, well preserved. And the bank that we’re standing on.  Inside were a series of pits and cremation burials.  It was where people came and buried their dead.”
Stonehenge began life as prehistoric cemetery but then they decided to take things further and create the site which still exists today.   
Looking through the octocopter, Ben says: “Stonehenge has a clear axis.  A line of symmetry that points towards one great purpose for this place. Everything is set out to respond to this crucial alignment, this solstice alignment.”
The monument marks where the sun rises on the longest day of the year and sets on the shortest day. Our ancestors used the stones to mark these days to help with farming.  They had to understand the seasons to plan their agricultural cycles.  
From the sky, Ben continues to find more clues about the uses of Stonehenge.  Hundreds of ancient burial mounds surround the site and there are traces of a prehistoric road the size of a dual carriageway.  The road was a processional avenue leading towards Stonehenge created 200 years after the stone circle. The octocopter follows it backwards two miles to the River Avon and reveals an enormous ancient site, one mile upstream. The area is called Durrington Walls and like Stonehenge it was joined to the River Avon and was a site for rituals. Experts believe Durrington Walls and Stonehenge would have hosted two halves of a ceremony, with the feasting at Durrington and a ritual at Stonehenge. 
Through the octocopter, Ben discovers evidence of something that existed before Stonehenge was built. He finds two parallel lines of banks and ditches around three kilometres long crossing the countryside. These earthworks were called the Cursus because early antiquarians thought they were a Roman racetrack. Archaeological dating shows the earthworks were from 3500BC and although the exact reason it was built is not known, it suggests that the area had some significance and could have even inspired the building of Stonehenge. 
The mounds near to the Cursus banks were called Barrows and were burial sites for important people. These mounds were built in the Bronze Age, centuries after Stonehenge was created and show yet another use for this historic site. When the Barrows were excavated, they were found to contain great treasures. 
Bettany visits Wiltshire Museum where she sees a recreation of the grave from the Bush Barrow. It is the richest Bronze Age burial site that has ever been discovered in Britain. The grave belonged to a chieftain who was buried with a gold lozenge that was intricately decorated to reflect the summer and winter solstice. 
Bettany says: “Stonehenge is more than just a set of impressively erected stones… it’s a witness to thousands of years worth of human experience. This place is a testament to us and to the power of ingenuity and imagination.”