Its enigmatic circle of giant stones are always thought to have stood in splendid isolation on the edge of Salisbury Plain.
But archaeologists now believe that Stonehenge was at the centre of a vast network of religious monuments.
The latest radar scanning technology has allowed experts to unearth a large but hidden complex of shrines, burial mounds and buildings used in gruesome rituals involving the dead.
Looking just below the surface, their extensive finds include evidence of 17 previously unknown wooden or stone structures.
Scientists from Birmingham University spent four years mapping an area of five square miles in minute detail as part of the largest geophysical survey ever undertaken. Unveiling their findings yesterday at the British Science Festival in Birmingham, they described how advanced radar scanners were developed especially for the project to build up a digital map ten feet underground.
Among the discoveries is a 100ft-long wooden building, or long barrow, around two miles from Stonehenge, built in 2400BC. Experts think it was the site of complex rituals, including the removal of flesh and limbs from dead bodies.
The building is thought to have been used for seven generations by a single family before it was buried in chalk and forgotten for thousands of years.
Also unearthed were massive prehistoric pits, some of which appear to form astronomical and solar links with Stonehenge – confirming the belief that it was positioned to reflect the Sun’s movement.
And the Durrington Walls ‘super-henge’ three miles away was revealed to have once been flanked by as many as 60 posts or stones up to ten feet high – suggesting a very similar structure to Stonehenge itself.
Project leader Professor Vincent Gaffney said archaeologists had previously thought most of the site was just ‘green grass’. He added: ‘What we’re seeing is this unconscious elaboration of the Stonehenge landscape.
‘You’ve got Stonehenge which is clearly a very large ritual structure which is attracting people from large parts of the country. But around it people are creating their own shrines and temples. We can see the whole landscape is being used in very complex ways.’
The way Stonehenge and its surroundings were laid out was a ‘highly theatrical arrangement,’ he said. As people approached the monument via an ancient procession route, it gradually emerged from the landscape.
The structures cannot be accurately dated until they are excavated – and any decision over digging lies with English Heritage.