Ancient Stonehenge gets modern-day revamp

Metal models of the world heritage site at Stonehenge, England, on view at the new visitor centre Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013. It has been standing for thousands of years, so Britain's ancient Stonehenge monument was due a makeover. The 27 million pound ($44 million) renovation which was previewed Tuesday includes a new building 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) from the stones where the 1 million a year visitors can watch an exhibition about Neolithic life. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Metal models of the world heritage site at Stonehenge, England, on view at the new visitor centre Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013. It has been standing for thousands of years, so Britain's ancient Stonehenge monument was due a makeover. The 27 million pound ($44 million) renovation which was previewed Tuesday includes a new building 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) from the stones where the 1 million a year visitors can watch an exhibition about Neolithic life. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

It has been standing for thousands of years, so Britain's ancient Stonehenge monument was due a makeover.

New visitor facilities and landscaping are designed to "restore the dignity" of the mysterious stone circle, and transform the way more than 1 million visitors a year see it.

The 27 million pound ($44 million) renovation which was previewed Tuesday includes a new building 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) from the stones where visitors can watch an exhibition about Neolithic life.

They can then walk to Stonehenge down an ancient processional walkway, or take a shuttle bus.

The new facilities open to the public Wednesday. In June, a section of busy highway that has run for decades beside the stones, 80 miles (130 kilometers) southwest of London, will be closed for good.

Simon Thurley, who heads governing body English Heritage, said visitors would be able to see the stones "free from the clutter and rubbish" that have been built up around them.

Stonehenge was built in three phases between 3000 B.C. and 1600 B.C. for a purpose that remains unclear.

Recent research suggests the site may have started as a giant burial ground for elite families. Archaeologists have found the remains of dozens of cremated bodies from about 3000 B.C. whose location was marked by bluestones.

The second Stonehenge, which still stands, may have been a place for Druid worship, a giant astronomical calendar, or a place of healing built by nomadic herders.

Evidence suggests the site drew large crowds for the summer and winter solstices, a tradition that continues today. Hundreds of self-styled Druids, pagans and New Age revelers are due to gather on the site for the winter solstice on Saturday, the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere.

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