5,000 Years of Stonehenge ; Siteseeing

Article excerpt

It has stood - in various incarnations - for some 5,000 years on the Salisbury Plain in southern England. It has drawn and inspired astronomers, druids and 'wannabe' druids, ancient and modern pilgrims, and even overenthusiastic heavy metal bands whose amplifiers go to eleven.

Stonehenge is one of the world's most famous man-made creations, but there has never been a website which offered virtual visitors a thorough tour of the monument and its environs, until now. The Stonehenge World Heritage Site Interactive Map brings visitors into the center of the circles, and also introduces them to the archaeological context of the surrounding countryside.

Launched on June 11 (and referred to by its creators as a 'microsite'), the Stonehenge Map was designed as a supplement to a larger Stonehenge feature at the Web home of English Heritage (An organization dedicated to protecting England's "historic environment"). But even standing on its own, the Map offers extensive coverage of the famous circles of stones, as well as a roughly 5 x 3-mile area of adjacent landscape - providing both a geographical and historical setting for the ruins.

And while many online maps are little more than basic images with a few interactive hotspots, the Stonehenge map was created by Oxford ArchDigital - a company born of the University of Oxford's Institute of Archaeology, and known for its expertise in map-based websites.

Whether visited directly or via the main Stonehenge resource at English Heritage, the Map presents a spartan design with a basic graphic and two tabbed options for exploration - Map and Time Travel. The first of these choices offers 10 archeological sites, ranging from prehistoric burial mounds and an Iron Age hillfort to Stonehenge itself, with each site offering background and virtual tours of varying degrees of detail. Once your exploration of a given site is complete, simply clicking on the Map tab will return you to home base, from which you can set out for the next destination.

Naturally, the Stonehenge link has the most exhaustive tour of the microsite, with text, photos, and artists' renditions tracing the landmark's history from the circular earthwork bank and ditch (or henge) of 3,000 BC to the present day. Also included are a pair of 360-degree panoramas (from within the circle, and from the path leading to the monument) available in both Flash and Quicktime formats, and -theoretically- a pair of WindowsMedia video clips of aerial surveys.

In practice, the links to the video clips returned inaccurate 'broken' plug-in notices, and even after downloading a video directly to my hard drive and opening that into MediaPlayer, I was still unable to play the clip. (Mac incompatibility? MediaPlayer quirk? I can't say - but it's a shame the ArchDigital folks didn't just stick with QuickTime, as they did with the panoramas. …